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W.R. BERKLEY CORP. SHELF RATED 'AA-/A+/A' FOR SENIOR/SUBORDINATED/PREFERRED DEBT BY FITCH -- FITCH FINANCIAL WIRE --

 NEW YORK, Nov. 11 /PRNewswire/ -- W.R. Berkley Corp.'s $250 million shelf registration is rated "AA-" for senior debt, "A+" for subordinated debt, and "A" for preferred stock by Fitch. W.R. Berkley's $255 million of outstanding "AA-" senior debt is affirmed. The credit trend is stable. The rating reflects W.R. Berkley's strong profitability, conservative management practices, and good debt service coverage.
 W.R. Berkley Corp. is a holding company whose principal subsidiaries operate in the regional personal and commercial property and casualty insurance market, specialty lines of insurance, and insurance services, including risk management and administration services.
 Despite the soft pricing environment for property/casualty risks, W.R. Berkley's diversified insurance operations continue to produce strong profitability by maintaining disciplined underwriting standards, often at the expense of market share, and further cultivating niche markets. Overall, net premium writings declined a modest 5 percent since 1988 to $420 million at year-end 1992. Through Sept. 30, 1993, net premium volume was $343 million. Statutory pretax operating income, though similarly affected by pricing pressures, has also remained relatively strong at $61 million in 1992 compared to $74 million in 1988. Through 1993's third quarter, statutory pretax operating income was approximately $45 million.
 Additionally, W.R. Berkley's expansion of its fee-based insurance services business, where no underwriting risks are assumed, provides a stable source of non-regulated income available to be upstreamed to the holding company. Pretax operating income from this segment increased to $11.1 million in 1992 from $6.6 million in 1988, and was $6.6 million through Sept. 30, 1993.
 Financial leverage has been prudently managed with debt-to- capitalization declining in years prior to 1992 due to strong profitability. However, W.R. Berkley's debt-to-capitalization increased to 33 percent through 1993's third quarter from 20 percent at year-end 1991 due to the issuance of $150 million in senior debt over the period, largely raised to fund potential acquisitions and increase capital at the operating subsidiaries. In addition, about $43 million was used in 1993 to reorganize intercorporate subsidiary ownership affiliations in order to cleanly transfer a reinsurance subsidiary to Signet Star Holdings, a joint venture with General Reinsurance, of which W.R. Berkley currently owns 60 percent.
 The increased interest expense associated with the additional debt reduced pretax interest coverage to 2.8 times (x) on a trailing 12-month basis at Sept. 30, 1993, compared to 7.1x at year-end 1991. While the coverage cushion has declined substantially, Fitch believes that W.R. Berkley's ability to meet debt service is good due to the excess dividend capability still available from its insurance subsidiaries, where dividends have been well below regulatory limits, and increasing management fees from the insurance services companies.
 -0- 11/11/93
 /CONTACT: Laurance M. Ring, 212-908-0673, or Lygia X. Campbell, 212-908-0695, both of Fitch/
 (BKLY)


CO: W.R. Berkley Corp. ST: Connecticut IN: INS SU: RTG

TW -- NY069 -- 3378 11/11/93 16:28 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Nov 11, 1993
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