Thrivent looks to be thriving again after profitable 2011

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 23, 2012 - 10:06 AM

The insurance and investment firm, which took a bath in 2009, posted a healthy profit for 2011.

Brad Hewitt of Thrivent Financial

Photo: Handout, Thrivent Financial

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Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, buoyed by increased sales of life insurance, annuities and other investments, will announce Thursday that operating earnings rose nearly 80 percent in 2011 to a record $480 million on revenue that rose 6 percent to $7.9 billion.

The company, which is owned by its members, has rebounded strongly from no operating profit in 2009, when improved sales of its financial products were offset by sharp "mark-to-market'" write-downs in mortgage portfolios and commercial real estate that resulted from the 2008-09 recession.

"We've done the right things, and 2011 was a banner year in terms of member experience, profit margin and membership growth," CEO Brad Hewitt told the Star Tribune in an interview Wednesday. "Solid business performance and strong investment results are two of the drivers that helped us meet and exceed our goals."

The company finished the year with assets under management of $76 billion, up 4 percent from 2010, a strong surplus out of which member dividends are paid and which cushions against any future losses. Thrivent also boasts top ratings for ability to pay claims from insurance ratings agencies such as Fitch and A.M. Best.

Hewitt said the continued low-interest-rate policy of the Federal Reserve, designed to stimulate borrowing and help mortgage-wounded bankers continue to heal, would continue to limit the popularity of fixed-income investments such as bonds and annuities until rates begin to rise. The Federal Reserve has indicated that may not happen before 2014, although Hewitt and others agreed that an improving economy and emerging signs of inflation could start to move rates upward toward more normal levels within a year.

Thrivent, unable to earn normal rates on its own investments, also has had to put more income into its surplus to maintain dividend levels to members.

"We think we have plenty of money [in surplus] in case interest rates stay low," Hewitt said. "We have penalized savers and insurance companies to help subsidize the recovery of some big banks and Wall Street. I hope interest rates do rise moderately."

Thrivent is a fraternal benefit organization, which annually donates an amount equivalent to at least what it would otherwise pay in corporate income taxes. Last year it donated nearly $175 million nationally to charities, schools, Lutheran congregations and individuals in need.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • nstanthony@startribune.com

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