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ING Group to Take $1.1 Billion Charge Against Fourth Quarter Earnings

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A major Dutch insurer will be taking a charge of as much of $1.1 billion against fourth quarter financial results.

ING Group, N.V., Amsterdam, Netherlands, announced today an estimated $1.1 billion (EUR $0.9 billion) earnings charge against the fourth quarter results of its U.S. closed variable annuity block of business. The adjustment includes a charge to “restore the reserve adequacy to the 50% confidence level for the US Closed Block VA in line with ING’s IFRS-based accounting policy,” the company noted in a press statement.

ING adds that it terminated the sale these VA policies in 2009. Thereafter the company undertook “decisive action to reduce risk, leverage and expenses.”Among the measures: reducing deferred acquisition costs, strengthening reserves, expanding hedging program and increasing transparency by reporting the closed U.S. VA block as a separate business along the ongoing ING insurance U.S. businesses.

“Our new management team in the U.S. Insurance business is taking decisive steps to address legacy issues, improve results and prepare the business for its standalone future,” said ING Group CEO Jan Hommen says in the press statement. “The actions announced today reflect necessary steps taken in the context of ongoing market turbulence and the impact that has on US policyholder behavior.”

ING adds that, as a result of today’s announcement, the Insurance Group Directive (IGD) ratio for ING Insurance is expected to decrease by an estimated 12 percentage points, but will remain strong at  approximately 230%. Likewise, the estimated consolidated risk-based capital (RBC) ratio for the insurance US operating subsidiaries is expected to decline from 492% as of Sept. 30, 2011, but to remain comfortably above its 425% target following these assumptions changes.

ING says that it plans to provide a contingent funding facility of approximately EUR 1.1 billion to its US insurance business to ensure ongoing compliance with US regulatory requirements. The company notes also that it will continue to improve its regulatory capital position through retained earnings, further de-risking and changes in asset allocation.

Following the announcement, Moody’s Investors Service, New York, downgraded to A3 from A2 the insurance financial strength (IFS) ratings of ING USA Annuity and Life Insurance Company and its rated US life insurance affiliates (collectively, ING US). The outlook on these ratings is stable.

Commenting on the downgrade, Moody’s says that the reserve charge is “sizable relative to ING US’s earnings and capital and weakens the US operation’s stand-alone credit quality.” Moody’s adds that some support for the US operations to offset the reserve charge may come from the wider ING Group.

“Although ING US has largely exited the business, charges related to legacy VA policies continue to depress the group’s overall profitability and weaken capital adequacy, thereby delaying its recovery” says Laura Bazer, vice president and senior credit officer. “Moreover, greater policyholder efficiency in capturing the value of their guaranteed benefits may be the source of future charges.”

Separately, Moody’s adds, the U.S. group faces the challenge and uncertainties of separating from its parent company, particularly in terms of establishing reliable and cost-effective stand-alone financing arrangements, as it moves toward its planned IPO in 2012.


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