April 19, 2012 | last updated June 1, 2012 1:59 pm

Travelers smashes estimates, insurance rates rising

Hartford-New York property insurer Travelers Cos Inc blew past Wall Street earnings estimates for the first quarter and raised its dividend 12 percent as natural disaster losses declined and insurance rates continued to rise after years of weakness, Reuters reports.

The company's shares rose 3.8 percent to $61.73 in early trading Thursday, at one point touching their highest level since June 2011, Reuters reports.

Travelers said commercial insurance rates rose an average 8 percent in the quarter. On a conference call with analysts, the company indicated that strength has continued.

Rates rose in other lines as well, including 4 percent in auto and 10 percent in homeowner policies. Chief Executive Jay Fishman, on the conference call, said Travelers was in some places raising deductibles and placing tighter terms on personal policies to improve profitability.

Pretax catastrophe losses declined to $168 million in the first quarter from $186 million a year earlier. The year-earlier period was marked by severe winter weather in the United States and devastating earthquakes in the Asia-Pacific region.

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