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Seeking assurance in insurance

The early 2023 U.S. regional banking crisis highlighted the importance of choosing carefully when investing in the financials sector, and Fidelity's Matt Reed believes well-positioned property & casualty insurance providers deserve a look amid elevated inflation, rising interest rates, and economic uncertainty.

"Although inflation is increasing the cost of claims, the insurance industry was already in the process of boosting premiums, given the persistence of social inflation, meaning the rising costs of claims associated with more expensive court settlements," highlights Matt Reed, portfolio manager of Fidelity® Select Financials Portfolio (FIDSX).

In running the sector-focused fund, Reed targets high-quality companies he believes can drive robust growth and risk-adjusted shareholder returns, as well as improving businesses that he feels are underappreciated by the market.

Lately, Reed has been assessing the impact of rising interest rates, which he says support the need for higher returns, particularly in areas like reinsurance, because firms that allocate capital to underwrite risk must, understandably, be adequately compensated.

He explains that this is largely because when compared with what investors perceived to be essentially risk-free investments—short-term U.S. Treasuries, as one example—returns for such securities have ticked up lately.

"Additionally, it's important to remember that insurers make money from the 'float' on premiums that are paid ahead of when claims are due, which should prove to be a tailwind in today's higher-rate environment," Reed points out.

While rising inflation and a growing economy can impact claims costs, it means there is greater demand, as the value of insurable assets increases.

Pivoting to the defensive side of the insurance industry, Reed feels that even if the economy does stumble, while P&Cs won't be completely immune, they should be subject to less risk than more credit-sensitive groups within the financials sector.

Thus, he feels that having exposure to P&C firms provides ballast within the portfolio during an economic slowdown and, in the worst case, a recession.

He cites Chubb (CB) and Hiscox (HCXLF) as two prime examples of fund holdings (as of October 31) that could benefit from these trends.

"Both of these P&C providers have unique, global characteristics that offer opportunities to grow their franchises through successive business and economic cycles," concludes Reed.

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Matt Reed
Matt Reed
Portfolio Manager

Matt Reed is a research analyst and portfolio manager in the Equity division at Fidelity Investments.

In this role, Mr. Reed is responsible for the research and analysis of the financial sector. Additionally, he manages Fidelity Advisor Financial Services Fund, Fidelity Select Banking Portfolio, Fidelity VIP Financial Services Portfolio, and Fidelity Select Financial Services Portfolio.

Prior to assuming his current responsibilities, Mr. Reed covered a variety of sectors, including banks and diversified financials, global financials, financial services and tech, health care, and metals and mining. In this capacity, he was responsible for recommending securities across the capital structure for Fidelity’s High Income division.

Before joining Fidelity as a summer intern in the High Income division in 2008, Mr. Reed was director of Asia Pacific strategy and planning at MetLife. He was also a director of finance at Travelers Group. He has been in the financial industry since 2008.

Mr. Reed earned his bachelor of arts degree in finance from Bentley College and his master of business administration degree from Harvard Business School.

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