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Direct Line Group – dividend back and new guidance

The board at Direct Line Group has proposed a 4p per share dividend and issued new medium-term guidance.
Direct Line - buyback announced, strong results

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Direct Line Group reported full-year results and saw a 27.1% rise in gross written premiums and associate fees to £3.1bn, largely driven by price hikes. The group’s net insurance margin was -8.3% and there was an operating loss of £189.5mn. This was entirely driven by the Motor division losses, which were partly offset by profit in other areas.

In-force policies were broadly flat at 9.4mn, despite losing 383,000 own-brand motor customers.

The solvency capital ratio (a measure of balance sheet strength) improved to 201%, benefiting from the sale of its brokered commercial business. The board has proposed a dividend of 4p per share but has warned it should not be seen as a return to regular dividends.

New targets are in place, with the aim of delivering a net insurance margin of 13% in 2026 and £100mn in cost cuts by the end of 2025.

The shares rose 1.6% in early trading.

Our view

Direct Line’s story has been dominated by takeover talk in recent weeks. Two proposed offers from Ageas have now been rejected, with the Board feeling the offers significantly undervalue Direct Line’s future prospects.

Full-year results painted a better picture than we’ve had for some time. But there’s a long way to go before this turnaround is complete. It’s no secret Direct Line has struggled over the past few years to deal with a challenging motor insurance market. Given Motor makes up close to half of all active policies, the unprofitable contracts written over the past 12-18 months have weighed on recent performance.

But aggressive price hikes have finally caught up with inflated costs. New policies are being written at levels in line with a net insurance margin of above 10% - back in the land of profit. But Direct Line was slower to raise prices than the wider market which means it’ll take longer to feel the benefits than peers.

With a new CEO and an improving market, the Motor business looks to finally have a footing from which it can grow profitable business.

Aside from Motor, performance across other business lines has been pretty good. Home insurance is a big part of the operation and remains profitable despite an uptick in claims inflation. Price hikes are again being called on, leading to a drop in customers - not just in Home but in Motor too. That's part of the strategy though, margins are being prioritised over volumes in the current climate and is something we can get behind for now.

With the sale of its brokered commercial insurance business, NIG, capital levels are stable again. Management has taken the mix of stable capital and improving Motor business as a signal to offer up a final dividend. It has however been clear that this should not be seen as a full reinstatement of a regular dividend. Investors should be prepared to see this taken away down the line should things falter. Nothing is guaranteed.

There’s still a long way to go if Direct Line wants to return a stable dividend and restore investor confidence. In the meantime, the valuation looks like it’s being supported somewhat by deal speculation, always a risky spot to be in.

Direct Line Group key facts

All ratios are sourced from Refinitiv, based on previous day’s closing values. Please remember yields are variable and not a reliable indicator of future income. Keep in mind key figures shouldn’t be looked at on their own – it’s important to understand the big picture.

This article is original Hargreaves Lansdown content, published by Hargreaves Lansdown. It was correct as at the date of publication, and our views may have changed since then. Unless otherwise stated estimates, including prospective yields, are a consensus of analyst forecasts provided by Refinitiv. These estimates are not a reliable indicator of future performance. Yields are variable and not guaranteed. Investments rise and fall in value so investors could make a loss.

This article is not advice or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any investment.No view is given on the present or future value or price of any investment, and investors should form their own view on any proposed investment.This article has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and is considered a marketing communication.Non - independent research is not subject to FCA rules prohibiting dealing ahead of research, however HL has put controls in place(including dealing restrictions, physical and information barriers) to manage potential conflicts of interest presented by such dealing.Please see our full non - independent research disclosure for more information.
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Written by
Matt Britzman
Senior Equity Analyst

Matt is an Equity Analyst on the share research team, providing up-to-date research and analysis on individual companies and wider sectors.

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Article history
Published: 21st March 2024