Apr 032012

Here’s part of a speech I wrote for a senior executive to present at the company’s annual sales meeting in March 2012. The speech was very well-received.

Let’s do a quick flash back to 2011. For me it’s The Year That Shall Live in Infamy.

We started the year with the Groundhog Day blizzard in the midwest and northeast. February and March brought tornadoes and hail. In April the midwest and southeast were battered by tornadoes including the F5 tornadoes that caused severe destruction throughout Alabama and Georgia.

May, June and July saw flooding, tornadoes, wildfires and more hail damage.

I don’t know about you but at that point last year I was beginning to wonder whether the Mayan calendar was off by a year! Or maybe something we had said started a new round of Biblical plagues.

In August we got a visit from hurricane Irene, and if that wasn’t enough, the usually mild month of October brought snowstorms throughout the northeast that broke all-time records and caused historic damage.

But good news, things are starting to look up. The weather last November and December was uncharacteristically mild. And now we seem to be experiencing the winter that hardly was. I don’t want to jinx it, and of course, Mother Nature is fickle and weather is always subject to change, especially as we head into spring storm season and then hurricane season. But we’ll be ready. We’re staffing up our Claims Storm team, exiting some coastal markets, expanding our reinsurance programs, and making sure we stay financially strong so we can always deliver on the promises you make to our clients.
Let’s look at the economy. After five years of a persistent, severe and historic downturn, the signs are starting to tell a better story. Here are just a few news flashes and leading indicators:

  • Last month the Labor Department reported that the jobless rate fell to 8.3 percent in January, a three-year low, which sent stocks and bond yields climbing.
  • U.S. car sales are up, and though they’re far from their previous highs, as you can see, the trend is favorable. One particular bright spot is General Motors, which was on the ropes and in bankruptcy two years ago. Last year GM earned 7.6 billion dollars, its best annual profit ever, and resumed the title of world’s largest car company. How’s that for a turnaround?
  • Housing starts in December, the last month figures were available, were up almost 25 percent versus December of a year ago. Building permits were up almost 8 percent from the year before. While the trends are positive, we know this sector is still very weak.

This good news shouldn’t obscure the fact that there are still plenty of clouds on the economic horizon. We’re not out of the woods by a long shot, and all sorts of global events – from Iran to continuing budget battles in Congress – could destabilize the economy once again. But the clouds have started to part, and the sunshine is welcome and warming.

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