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StanCorp sees faint signs of growth

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Loyal customers and some stability in the job market helped earnings at StanCorp Financial Group Inc. (NYSE:SFG) in the fourth quarter.

StanCorp — the parent of The Standard, a major seller of group disability insurance — is reporting $65 million in net income for the quarter on $719 million in revenue, up from $38 million in net income on $718 million in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2012.

The long-term disability (LTD) insurance business generated $25 million in new sales and $193 million in premium revenue from in-force business, down from $27 million in new sales and $198 million in premiums.

The short-term disability (STD) business produced $13 million in sales on $57 million in premiums, up from $10 million in sales and $52 million in premiums.

Because of rising interest rates, the average interest rate in new investments increased to 4.33 percent, from 4.23 percent in the third quarter, but, because the new rates are still so low compared with historic levels, the discount rate the company uses to price new LTD claims fell to 3.75 percent, from 4 percent a year earlier.

Persistency — the amount of business that stayed on the books — increased to 87.9 percent, from 87.8 percent, for LTD, and to 91.9 percent, from 86.6 percent, for STD, even though the company has been increasing LTD prices.

Greg Ness, the president of StanCorp, said during a conference call with analysts that employees kept business on the books by working hard and providing good service.

He reported that employment levels at benefits customers fell during the first three quarters of 2013.

In the fourth quarter, customer employment levels increased 0.2 percent.

“While this is a small change, I definitely like the direction it’s heading in,” Ness said.

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