Insurance stocks are tricky for several reasons. There are probably more unique accounting rules for insurance, then any other industry. Why? The cost of goods sold is not known at the issuance of a policy. Every dollar into an insurance company is equal, but every promise made is not equal. Over time, estimates of cost become more accurate, but with long-tailed lines the progress is often fitful at best.
Life reserving is a science (please ignore the new funky investment derivatives inside some policies). Short-tailed P&C reserving is close to a science. Long-tailed P&C reserving is an art, and a dark art. I’m not sure that even the internal actuaries reserving the long-tailed lines can be that comfortable with the accuracy of the reserves.
This is why it pays to stick with conservative and competent managements that have shown that they can manage the soft part of the cycle. I may miss some speculative gains managing this way, but for the most part, I will miss out on the losses. To give you further insight into my philosophy, here’s a presentation that I gave to the Southeastern Actuaries Club. (I am available for other speaking engagements if I can show my employer a business purpose.)