Title insurance premiums slipped for the 12th consecutive quarter in the first three months of 2009, but the rate of decline has slowed, the American Land Title Association said in releasing industry statistics.

Title insurers wrote $1.98 billion in premiums during the first quarter of 2009, compared with $2.64 billion in premiums during the same period a year ago, ALTA said. The 25 percent year-over-year decline was less drastic than the 34 percent drop in the final three months of 2008 and all other quarters last year.

"Although poor markets have continued, the rate of decline is slowing," ALTA noted in a press release.

The four largest states in terms of written premiums — California, Texas, Florida and New York –were down 8 percent, 32 percent, 40 percent and 39 percent, respectively, ALTA said.

The industry as a whole posted a $117.4 million net loss for the quarter, compared with $224.8 million in net income during the same period a year ago. Title insurers saw a net loss of $438.3 million for the full-year 2008, ALTA said.

The title insurance underwriters with the greatest market share were Fidelity National Financial Inc. (45 percent), First American Corp. (27.6 percent), Stewart Title Guaranty Co. (12.7 percent) and Old Republic International Corp. (6.3 percent). About three dozen regional underwriters had the remaining 8.4 percent of the market, ALTA said.

Fidelity acquired troubled rival LandAmerica Financial Group Inc.’s underwriting companies in December, making the company the nation’s largest title insurance underwriter. In April, Fidelity reported that it had raised title insurance rates in 22 states and slashed $231 million in annual expenses by firing workers and closing offices (see story).


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