Investors looking for some upside during the market downturn need to look no further than insurance companies. The S&P Insurance Select Industry Index has only lost 2% this year, outperforming a 16% plunge for the S&P 500. That’s thanks to rising rates which boosts the cash that insurers take in.
A total of 105 insurance companies made this year’s Forbes Global 2000, ranking the 2,000 largest public companies in the world based on a composite score accounting for their revenue, profit, assets and market value. Insurers make up 11 of the top 100 on the list, with those giants spread across China, the U.S., Germany, France, Hong Kong and Switzerland.
China’s Ping An group held on as the highest-ranked insurance company on the Global 2000, though it has faced more challenges in the last year than many of its American and European counterparts and slipped 11 spots to No. 17 on the list. Its net profit in 2021 sunk 29% to $15.7 billion as it booked a $6.4 billion impairment related to investments in China Fortune Land Development, one of several debt-ridden Chinese property developers that defaulted last year. Ping An had $32 billion invested in real estate assets as of the end of 2021, accounting for 5.5% of its total investment assets, according to its annual report.
That exposure has contributed to its stock’s 50% decline since the beginning of 2021. But Ping An remains a formidable cash cow, with $181 million in revenue in 2021, up 7% year over year, and 227 million retail customers, up from 218 million at the end of 2020. In addition to insurance, the conglomerate offers banking, asset management and healthcare services and holds $1.6 trillion in total assets.
U.S. insurance firms have generally held steady or gained ground this year, with UnitedHealth Group leading the way at No. 21 on the list. UnitedHealth’s $298 billion in 12-month revenue is the seventh-most among all the world’s public companies, just ahead of CVS Health and automakers like Toyota and Volkswagen, and its stock has gained 25% since last October. The company agreed to buy home healthcare firm LHC Group for $5.4 billion in March.
CVS is classified as a pharmaceutical retailer rather than an insurance company, though it owns large insurer Aetna and ranks 42nd on the list. Germany’s Allianz, France’s AXA and China Life Insurance Co. round out the top five among insurers.
New York-based MetLife and Connecticut-based health insurer Cigna are also in the top 100 of the Global 2000 once again at No. 74 and No. 80, respectively. American International Group was one of the list’s biggest gainers, moving up from 439th last year to 90th. AIG’s revenue rose 19% in 2021 to $52 billion, and it recorded $9.4 billion in net income attributable to shareholders compared with a $6 billion net loss in 2020. AIG was particularly battered by Covid, losing two-thirds of its market value in late February and March 2020, but its stock has recovered those losses in the last two years. Shares of MetLife and Cigna have also increased this year, avoiding the broader market carnage.
Other American names on the list would be familiar to anybody who’s used to sitting through television commercials: Aflac, Allstate, Progressive and Travelers, to name a few. Allstate and Progressive trail only privately owned State Farm in market share for U.S. car insurance and are both ahead of Berkshire Hathaway’s Geico.
All the insurance companies on this year’s Global 2000 are listed below.