MGIC Investment Corp. on Wednesday posted a fourth-quarter loss that was wider than analysts had estimated, and the company said it cannot predict when it will return to profit.

The largest U.S. mortgage insurer's operating loss, which excludes some investment results, was 98 cents a share, missing the average estimate of a 46-cent loss from eight analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

The net loss was $186.7 million. The Milwaukee company has been unprofitable 13 of the past 14 periods.

"We currently expect to continue to report annual net losses," the company said. "Although we currently expect to return to profitability on an annual basis, we cannot assure you when, or if, this will occur."

For the 12 months that ended Dec. 31 the net loss was $363.7 million, compared with a loss of $1.32 billion in 2009. Fourth-quarter premium revenue fell 4.8% year over year, to $291.1 million. Realized investment gains fell by half, to $13.4 million. Book value per share, a measure of assets minus liabilities, fell 16%, to $8.33, from $9.89 on Sept. 30.

MGIC's cost of claims from mortgage defaults was $448.4 million, down from $880.9 million in the year-earlier period. The number of properties that got notices of default, auction or repossession fell in the last part of 2010, including a 26% drop in December, as lenders came under scrutiny for their practices, RealtyTrac Inc. said in a report last week.

"We expect claims to be at or higher than the fourth-quarter run-rate in 2011," MGIC Chief Executive Curt Culver said in a conference call Wednesday. "This foreclosure issue could cause the outlook to be more volatile on a quarter-to-quarter basis."

The number of borrowers who caught up on overdue payments, known as "cures," was below the number of defaults industrywide from June through November, the latest month for which data is available, according to the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America.

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