Principal Financial Group Earnings Call Nuggets: Competitive Environment and Cuprum Outlook

Principal Financial Group (NYSE:PFG) recently reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Competitive Environment

Seth Weiss – Bank of America Merrill Lynch: I had a quick question on margins within the Accumulations, which came in above the high end of your 2013 guidance range. Is there anything (indiscernible) from the competitive environment from these results?

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Larry D. Zimpleman – Chairman, President and CEO: This is Larry, I’ll ask Dan to comment as well. I think it really reflects more the particular size of the market. In our case again going more for the $1 million to $5 million sort of plan size, rather than necessarily reflecting a change in the competitive environment. Although I would say, I think, that as far as the competitive environment generally things have sort of stabilize. So, I don’t think they are getting worst, they’re not necessarily getting better but largely the improvements due to selling smaller plans. Dan?

Daniel J. Houston – President, Retirement, Insurance and Financial Services: I think your question is a little more broad perhaps on all of accum. If you pull in the funds, which are finally seeing from the mutual funds is a very strong contribution to operating earnings and helping improve the margins there. We looked at that business to be very sustainable and just a reminder that is equally as involved in the qualified retirement plan business if you think about those dollars in our DCIO it’s the investment only on other competitors platforms and then of course a lot of roll-over IRA business. So again, we feel very good about our sustainability in this accumulation segment of the market…

Seth Weiss – Bank of America Merrill Lynch: Then Larry just to follow-up on your first plan in terms of the focus on the small to sized cases. I would expect the sales focused on that, at least the margin improvement to be small when you consider the large in force. So when we think about the margins on a go forward basis and the shifting focus back to small to midsized, how should we think about that impacts quarterly?

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Larry D. Zimpleman – Chairman, President and CEO: Well, I think, again we are balancing number of factors here. It really again is a question overall about the revenue you are receiving on your new business, it is about the revenue you are receiving on your existing market business, it’s about how you have to adjust the revenue on your existing block of business as those plans get bigger and as those plans get bigger understandably the advisor and the planned sponsor would expect those fees to be adjusted over time. So, you are balancing a number of competing considerations. What I would say is we are probably in a better position today in terms of having balance between all those. We are in a better position today than we’ve been in the last couple of years. So, I think, that’s why you are seeing those sort of overall results stabilize and again pending some shock to the market or some other unforeseen event, I think, we’d expect those trends to continue.

Cuprum Outlook

Sean Dargan – Macquarie: In Terry’s prepared remarks it sounds like the contribution from Cuprum was higher than I think you had laid out in November of last year and it sounds like the full year impacts will be higher. Yet it seems that Principal International earnings as a whole are kind of still what you laid out in your guidance call last year. So, I am wondering how to think about that should we think that other businesses within PI are not going to do as well?

Larry D. Zimpleman – Chairman, President and CEO: This is Larry and I’ll ask Terry to comment in a minute, but first let me kind of restate what I think is really the most important element for our Principal International business over the long-term, which is that we have had an expectation that again assuming sort of constant economic assumptions around inflation and foreign exchange and so forth, we would expect Principal International businesses to grow at that approximately 15% sort of annual earnings growth, and while this quarter because as we on-boarded Cuprum and we have looked at all of the accounting guidance around all of our international businesses. There is some movement around between Cuprum and AFORE Mexico. It doesn’t change in any way shape or form the basic story that Principal International should be able to continue to grow earnings at that kind of 15% cliff. I think in 2013, Cuprum is going to be a positive contributor to that, but the existing businesses also continue to grow nicely. So, the story is really well in hand and it’s about the short-term of bouncing around, but for the long-term in 2013, we still expect that sort of 15% growth. Terry, you want to comment?

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Terrance J. Lillis – SVP and CFO: Larry’s comments were spot on, as we looked at the acquisition of Cuprum in the first quarter, we took that opportunity to work with (E&Y) our auditor to look at all similar type of products as it become a bigger portion of our operation, in all the different jurisdictions. As a result of that we changed the way that we are going to amortize some of the acquisition costs. We’re going to capitalize fewer costs. We are going to also change the amortization to be more of a straight line amortization. Now as you are aware, this does not have any impact on the underlying economics of the business. It’s just the recognition of when those earnings will come into play. So we don’t feel that it will have a significant impact on the long-term growth rate of the business in fact as we look forward in this business we see that there is very favorable trends for us.

A Closer Look: Principal Financial Group Earnings Cheat Sheet>>