Does Genworth's news mean it's time to flee?

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James Berklan
James Berklan

There is a memorable scene in the movie “Forrest Gump” when Lt. Dan chews out the well-intentioned title soldier for saluting him while the enemy is likely watching. The implication is that if you want to strike a crushing blow to something, you take out its leader.

Not only does physically eliminating a leader erase a primary means of getting direction, it also kills morale.

That's what I pondered when I saw the recent bad news about long-term care insurer Genworth Financial. It is the largest U.S. seller of long-term care insurance and a holdout among the many large insurers that once sold LTC policies.

Gone, exiting the market or decreasing exposure are names like Prudential, MetLife, Unum and Hancock. But Genworth, despite altering its sales strategy, has always remained pretty steady.

Capturing more than one-third of the long-term care insurance market, Genworth would be the one to stick it out. Genworth was the stalwart. (OK, it announced late last year it would have to get tougher about bottom line considerations. Annual premium increases, lesser likelihood of payouts down the road, and vanishing inflation hedges. But No. 1 would be marching on.)

Now, however, it might be time to yell, “Run, Forrest, run!”

Cracks that began to show last December, if not earlier, have made Genworth's long-term care business worthless. At least that's according to analysts at Macquarie Group Ltd. and Keefe, Bruyette and Woods. In fact, one of the analysts has called for Genworth to close up the LTC shop.

Recovery efforts attempted by Genworth CEO Tom McInerney, it appears, are having trouble gaining traction. A third-quarter loss of $844 million was announced in early November, triggering a 40% loss in stock value. This, in the wake of the company raising premiums and cutting future policy benefits. Not exactly the stuff of inspiration.

No wonder Standard & Poor's dropped Genworth's credit grade to junk. Junk is not what you expect to see saluted on the battlefield.

So has the battle for the viable long-term care insurance policy already been lost? It seems the gradual but undeniable retreat of both clients and their sellers would indicate so.

Oh, don't look for an obituary for the long-term care policy in your local newspaper tomorrow. But when your leader gets shot to the ground, there is usually not a lot of good that happens next.


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