Another “Big Four” title insurer announced its fourth quarter earnings and yet again the numbers reached historic highs. On its fourth quarter earnings call with investors, Fidelity National Financial announced that its adjusted full-year net earnings came in at $2.3 billion for 2021, a 49% increase over a year prior. The firm attributed this impressive increase to its title segment’s strong performance.
“Our adjusted earnings in the fourth quarter reflect the best quarter in the company’s history,” newly appointed CEO Mike Nolan said during a call with investors.
During the fourth quarter, Fidelity’s title segment generated a total revenue of $3.1 billion, with $1.0 billion coming from direct title premiums, a 21% increase of the fourth quarter of 2020. Agency title premiums and commercial title revenue also increased 23% and 70%, respectively during the fourth quarter. In addition, the firm’s adjusted pre-tax title margin was 22.4% in Q4 and 21.7% for the full year.
Like their other “Big Four” counterparts, Fidelity executives addressed concerns about the market shifting from refinance transactions to purchase transactions during the call.
“Looking ahead, we expect refinance to decline through 2022, as interest rates rise in the outlook for inflation and the expectation for federal reserve to tighten policy throughout the year,” Nolan said. “This is an ongoing trend, as direct residential refinance revenues have continued to be a smaller portion of our total direct revenue, contributing approximately 28% of total direct revenue in the fourth quarter of 2020 as compared with 16% in the fourth quarter of 2021.”
Fidelity’s title business saw the number of purchase transaction orders opened increase 2% on a daily basis and the number of purchases orders closed increase 4% on a daily basis during the fourth quarter compared to a year prior. Commercial orders also increased, with the number of commercial orders opened increasing 13% and the number of commercial orders closed increasing 17% year over year. On the other end of the spectrum, during the fourth quarter, Fidelity saw the number of refinance orders opened decrease 44% on a daily basis and the number of refinance orders closed decrease 39% on a daily basis compared to a year prior.
“Momentum in residential purchase and commercial revenue more than offset the ongoing contraction in refinance volumes, which have a significantly lower fee per file,” Nolan said.
So far in 2022, Fidelity reported that its purchase transaction orders were down 1% in January. Despite this, this firm remains optimistic, thanks to strong commercial open order volumes in late 2021 and the developments it has and hopes to make in its investments in technology firms like SoftPro.
“Our investments are more in the continued enhancement and development stages and we are adding more features to our existing technologies,” Nolan said. “We’ve got more that we can do with the platforms as we build more capabilities into them.”
During the third quarter of 2021, Fidelity was the largest title insurance underwriter by market share, according to the American Land Title Association.