This is an update to last week’s posting (see December 5, 2007 posting below) about Executive Life Insurance Company of New York (ELNY). I expect to continue issuing postings on this topic to raise questions about the premises behind the New York Liquidation Bureau’s bail out plan for ELNY so long as the Bureau continues to publicly tout its plan using justifications that are contrary to the facts.
This week’s issue of Business Insurance (http://www.bi.com/) published a follow-up article on the ELNY deal reporting on statements by the head of the Liquidation Bureau, Mark Peters. According to the article, “ELNY would receive roughly $650 million to $750 million in cash contributions” from both state life guarantee associations and from certain p/c companies “that bought ELNY annuities to fund structured settlements of liability claims.” The p/c companies include Allianz, Fireman’s Fund, Allstate, State Farm and Travelers.
The article goes on to state: “The contributions will be enough to offset the $2 billion deficit that ELNY is predicted to face in 12 to 15 years, regulators say. The deficit results largely from an overly optimistic assumption in ELNY’s 1992 rehabilitation plan that the estate would earn 10% annually on its invested assets, Mr. Peters said. The actual return was between 7% and 8%. The Liquidation Bureau is now assuming a future annual return of just over 6%, he said. Most of ELNY’s contracts will run off within 35 years, with the last contract expiring in about 70 years, he said.”
Let’s see what’s wrong with the foregoing statements:
Inadequate interest rate assumptions cannot begin to account for the purported deficit. The assets simply have not decreased substantially in the past 16 years. In fact, prior to 2002, there was NO reduction in reported assets – all policy claims were being paid from current earnings.
The 1992 plan of rehabilitation does not include interest rate assumptions. It discussed an investment strategy summarized as follows: “. . . principal and interest realized upon maturity or recovery of ELNY's bonds [none of which defaulted, by the way], as well as other cash flows derived from investments contained in ELNY's portfolio, will be reinvested in long-term (thirty (30) year) investment grade corporate bonds and in Standard and Poor's 500 common stocks. The reinvestment in common stocks will be limited."
The 1992 plan of rehabilitation specifically stated that that the cash flows from investments “are projected to be sufficient to cover current [covered annuity] payouts for at least ten (10) years.” That is what happened. So how was the strategy wrong?
By the beginning of 2002 the number of outstanding contracts had already declined by over 40% (now over 50%), yet the asset base remained constant. Over-stated interest assumptions simply cannot explain the Bureau’s publicly announced conclusions.
So if it is not the interest rate assumptions causing the purported deficit, what is causing it? Potential investors have made proposals to the Liquidation Bureau over the past several years supported by pro forma statements using interest rate assumptions at or below the Bureau’s current assumption without showing any significant deterioration based on known liabilities. These investment proposals all failed to obtain the Bureau’s “approval” because of continual increases in liabilities – not because of a decline in the assets. This precipitous increase in liabilities – which is not mentioned at all in the Bureau’s statements about ELNY -- is counter-intuitive to the conservative actuarial assumptions in place for the life of the estate, the nature of the business, and the decline by half in the number of active policies.
A couple of other points are also worthy of note. It is interesting that this publicly touted agreement with the industry is not publicly available, and all the participants are unable to discuss the agreement because they were each required to enter into a confidentiality agreement with the Bureau. If the bail out plan is so beneficial for everyone, why does the Bureau feel compelled to keep it hidden?
In the Business Insurance article, Mr. Peters also stated that the bail-out plan “would be cheaper for the insurers [how this is so is not explained] and avoids the ‘chaos’ that would come with a liquidation.” One thing that liquidation accomplishes is to remove the company from the hands of the people that caused it to become insolvent. Because ELNY was solvent when it was placed in rehabilitation, if it is now insolvent it became insolvent under the Liquidation Bureau’s watch. Can anyone imagine the industry voluntarily contributing $750 million to bail out a company's management so that it could avoid liquidation and remain in charge?