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Title insurance premiums written rose 8.7% in 1Q

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Conditions in the title insurance industry improved in the first quarter, as premiums written increased 8.7% from a year earlier. The American Land Title Association said about $2.25 billion of new premiums was written during the first three months of 2011, up from $2.07 billion in the 2010 first quarter. "After 13 consecutive quarters in which title premiums written declined from the prior year's equivalent quarter, the third quarter of 2009 ended this string with an increase of 1.4% over third quarter of 2008," said Kurt Pfotenhauer, chief executive officer of ALTA. "Since then, quarterly premiums written have fluctuated up and down in no discernible pattern." Pfotenhauer believes the title industry remains in a strong financial position, with operating losses narrowing to $11 million in the first quarter from a loss of $124 million during the same three months of 2010. The industry has $8.3 billion in assets and more than $4.75 billion in statutory reserves, he said. According to the ALTA report, the Fidelity family of title insurers wrote the highest volume of premiums in the first quarter with $757.5 million, which is roughly one-third of the market. Still that figure is down 3.2% from a year earlier. First American insurers followed Fidelity with a 28% market share, or $622.4 million of premiums written in the first quarter. Old Republic garnered 13.5% of the market, while Stewart and its associated firms claimed 12.5%. Forty-one states and the District of Columbia experienced increases in title insurance premiums on an annual basis. Companies wrote the most amount title insurance in California, with $307 million, up 2% from the first quarter of 2010. Texas came in second at $246 million, up 22.2%, followed by New York at $165 million and Florida at $159 million. Alaska, Kansas and West Virginia witnessed more than a 30% spike in written premiums, ALTA said. Write to Christine Ricciardi. Follow her on Twitter @HWnewbieCR.

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