In an ugly echo of the GE debacle from two weeks ago, MetLife stock tumbled 10% after hours on Monday after the company announced that it would revise prior financial reports because of overdue monthly pension benefits that it had failed to pay to possibly tens of thousands of workers in past years.
Specifically, MetLife had uncovered a "material weakness" in internal control over financial reporting of its annuity business and expects to increase reserves in total between $525m and $575m pre-tax. It also disclosed that the Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement staff “has made an inquiry” about the matter. MetLife said it also is responding to questions from its lead state regulator, the New York Department of Financial Services, and other state regulators.
Shares tumbled as much as 10% on the news.
From the press release:
Management of the company has determined the prior release of group annuity reserves resulted from a material weakness in internal control over financial reporting. MetLife expects to increase reserves in total between $525 million and $575 million pre-tax, to adjust for reserves previously released, as well as accrued interest and other related liabilities. The amount of the reserve increase is based in substantial part on actuarial, legal, statistical, and other assumptions. If actual facts and factors differ from those the company has assumed, the reserve the company has established could be adversely or positively affected.
As a result of the gross oversight, full-year net income for 2017 would be slashed by $165 million to $195 million, with the insurer adding that it intends to "make prior period revisions to reflect the balance of these adjustments in the appropriate historical periods." The company also expects to correct historical periods for unrelated errors in those periods, as required by accounting standards. Those errors were previously recorded in the periods in which the company identified them.
MetLife also unveiled that it is responding to inquiries from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as state regulators from New York and other locations.
What does this mean? As auditor Francine McKenna noted, the part about "currently reviewing its processes and procedures for identifying unresponsive and missing international group annuity annuitants and pension beneficiaries" simply means that Metlife had no idea how many people they owed.
"Like property escheatment. Unclaimed potentially dead people."
Explaining this further, MetLife is one of numerous large and highly rated life insurers that agree to take responsibility for some or all of the payments due participants in private-sector plans from employers such as Sears Holdings and PPG Industries. These deals are called “pension risk transfer.” Many employers with old-fashioned pension plans, under which they pay monthly benefits to retired workers, are eager to reduce their exposure to investment and interest risk in running pensions by striking risk-transfer agreements with insurers.
Those deals provide assets for investment, while helping the employer cut the risk of volatility in results. But they also require insurers and the employers to clean up and transfer data for many workers, including some that have left the company long ago.
And here lies the rub:
The New York insurer disclosed the unpaid pensions in mid-December and has been working with a firm that specializes in finding addresses to get in touch with the retirees who are owed money. It had set a goal to determine by Feb. 1 how much money it owed people. A law firm hired by MetLife has been investigating how its retirement business erred in allowed the pensions to go unpaid, according to the WSJ.
The New York insurer disclosed the unpaid pensions in mid-December and has been working with a firm that specializes in finding addresses to get in touch with the retirees who are owed money. It had set a goal to determine by Feb. 1 how much money it owed people. A law firm hired by MetLife has been investigating how its retirement business erred in allowed the pensions to go unpaid.
As Bloomberg adds, the charges add to a expenses MetLife incurred last year, many of them spurred by the separation of a U.S. retail business called Brighthouse Financial Inc.
Chief Executive Officer Steve Kandarian spun off that unit in August to help it remove some volatility in results and focus on other businesses including ones selling insurance through employers and international markets.
As a result of the uncovered weakness, MetLife pushed back its earnings release for the fourth quarter, which was originally scheduled for this week, to Feb. 13 and said it will hold a call the next day. MetLife still expects to file its 10-K by March 1
Following the MetLife news, the big question on many investors minds is whether GE and MET are 'lone wolves' or this type of unreported "material weakness" is a pervasive issue across the entire industry?