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Abstract

Using a sample of property–liability insurers over the period 1995–2004, we develop and test a model that explains performance as a function of line-of-business diversification and other correlates. Our results indicate that undiversified insurers consistently outperform diversified insurers. In terms of accounting performance, we find a diversification penalty of at least 1 percent of return on assets or 2 percent of return on equity. These findings are robust to corrections for potential endogeneity bias, alternative risk measures, alternative diversification measures, and an alternative estimation technique. Using a market-based performance measure (Tobin's Q) we find that the market applies a significant discount to diversified insurers. The existence of a diversification penalty (and diversification discount) provides strong support for the strategic focus hypothesis. We also find that insurance groups underperform unaffiliated insurers and that stock insurers outperform mutuals.