Insurers and the Economy


While total economic losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disaster events remain far below-average in the first half of 2015, the global insurance and reinsurance industry is covering a higher than average percentage of those losses.

That’s the key takeaway from preliminary sigma estimates of global catastrophe losses for the first half of 2015, just released by Swiss Re.

Of the $37 billion in total economic losses from disaster events in the first half of 2015, the global insurance and reinsurance industry covered nearly 45 percent, or $16.5 billion, of these losses.

This is higher than the previous 10-year average of 27 percent covered by the global re/insurance industry.

Of the overall insured losses in the first half of 2015, $12.9 billion came from natural disasters, down from nearly $20 billion in first half 2014, and again below the average first-half year loss of the previous 10 years ($25 billion).

Man-made disasters triggered an additional $3.6 billion in insured losses in the first half of 2015, sigma said.

So why did insurance and reinsurance cover a higher proportion of global catastrophe losses in the first half?

The answer lies in the location of the most costly insured natural catastrophes losses for the insurance industry in the first half of 2015—thunderstorms in the United States and winter storm losses in Europe.

These larger loss events, as well as the severe winter weather in North America, all contributed to the lower percentage of uninsured losses through the first half of the year.

Here’s the Swiss Re chart showing the dollar breakout of insured and uninsured catastrophe-related losses from 2005 through 2015:

CatastropheLossesInsuredandUninsured

Note: insured losses + uninsured losses= total economic losses

But, as Artemis blog reports here, sadly the lower proportion of uninsured losses is not related to any major increase in insurance penetration.

The Nepal earthquakes provide a striking example. While economic losses from the quakes are estimated at $5 billion, only around $160 million were insured.

In the words of Kurt Karl, chief economist at Swiss Re:

The tragic events in Nepal are a reminder of the utility of insurance. Insurance cover does not lessen the emotional trauma that natural catastrophes inflict, but it can help people better manage the financial fallout from disasters so they can start to rebuild their lives.”

Check out Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) facts and statistics on global catastrophes.

The percentage of businesses purchasing commercial insurance increased in the second quarter of 2015, according to the latest Commercial P/C Market Index survey from the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers (CIAB).

An overwhelming 90 percent of brokers responding to the survey said that take-up rates had increased, in part as premium savings drove interest in new lines of coverage and/or higher limits.

Cyber liability continues to gain traction, brokers noted, and this trend is expected to continue as the cyber insurance market matures, new insurers, products and capacity come to market and as companies realize the true extent of their cyber exposure.

Broker comments came as The Council’s analysis shows that rates declined across all commercial lines in the second quarter, continuing the downward trend from the first three months of 2015.

Premium rates across all size accounts fell by an average of 3.3 percent compared with a 2.3 percent decrease in the first quarter of 2015.

Large accounts once again saw the steepest drop in prices of 5.2 percent, while medium sized accounts fell 3.5 percent and small accounts fell 1.3 percent.

Commercial property, general liability and workers’ compensation premiums were most frequently reported down across all regions, with a slight uptick in commercial auto.

Ken Crerar, president and CEO of The Council said:

As the soft market continues in 2015, carriers are competing for good risks and are willing to work with brokers on price and terms.”

Meanwhile, average flood insurance rates saw an uptick across all regions, most frequently in the Southeast and Southwest regions, the Council noted.

This increase is likely due to premium increases, assessments, and surcharges, mandated by both the Biggert Waters Act and the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act (HFIAA), which went into effect April 1.

Find out more about business insurance from the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

Despite a rather quiet first half of 2015 for global catastrophes, insurers endured at least five separate billion-dollar insured loss events (all weather-related), according to Aon Benfield’s just-released Global Catastrophe Recap: First Half of 2015.

None of the events crossed the multi-billion dollar loss threshold ($2 billion or greater) and four of the five were recorded in the United States, Aon Benfield said.

The costliest event for the insurance industry was an extended period of snow and frigid temperatures in the U.S. during February ($1.8 billion in insured losses). (See our earlier post on first half winter storm losses here).

Other billion-dollar insured loss events in the U.S. included an early April severe thunderstorm outbreak ($1 billion), a severe thunderstorm and flash flood event at the end of May ($1.2 billion), and projected losses arising from the ongoing drought across the West ($1 billion and counting).

The sole billion-dollar insured loss event to be recorded outside the U.S. during the first half of 2015 was Windstorms Mike and Niklas in Western and Central Europe at the end of March/early April. Niklas became the first billion-dollar insured loss windstorm event in Europe since Xaver in December 2013, Aon Benfield said.

Note: the loss totals, which include those sustained by public and private insurance entities, are preliminary and subject to change.

If you’re wondering about the difference between economic and insured loss totals, the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 (and subsequent aftershocks) is a good example.

From an economic loss standpoint, the Nepal earthquake ranks as the costliest global natural disaster during the first half of 2015, Aon Benfield reports.

Total damage and reconstruction costs throughout the impacted areas were estimated as high as $10 billion (subject to change), with reconstruction costs in Nepal alone put at nearly $7 billion.

Despite having a multi-billion-dollar economic cost to Nepal with overall economic effects poised to equal more than one-third of the country’s entire GDP, only a very small fraction of those losses – about 2 percent – was covered by insurance.

Check out Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) facts and statistics on global catastrophes here.

Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) chief actuary James Lynch explains how insurance float works and the impact it has on insurance rates. 

Asked for the secret to his success, famed Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett often points to insurance float, “money that doesn’t belong to us but that we can invest for Berkshire’s benefit.”

He is talking about premium and loss reserves, the funds that any insurer holds while waiting for claims to settle. That money gets invested, and the investment income is an important revenue source for insurers. It also lowers insurance premiums, since actuaries take investment income into account when setting prices.

But these days float isn’t so buoyant, as you can see from the accompanying chart, which shows the net new money yield – what insurers typically obtain when they invest the float, adjusted for inflation. The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) estimates the yield, and we at I.I.I. made the inflation adjustment.

USPCNewMoneyVsCPI

The chart goes back decades, and it is easy to see the steady decline in yields. Thirty years ago the float yielded 5 percentage points above the inflation rate.

Yields have fallen inexorably. In recent years, the float has struggled to beat inflation. The post-recession peak has been 2009, when new money yields beat inflation by 2.6 percentage points, but in four of the past six years the net new money yield was negative.

Insurers differ in their investment strategy, but taken as a whole, the industry has suffered from the loss in yield. As a result, insurers have had to deliver better underwriting results in order to be as profitable as they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

Last year the property/casualty industry wrote a combined ratio of 97, and delivered an 8.2 percent return on equity.  The industry had a similar ROE in 1983 – 8.3 percent — but ran a combined ratio of 112, thanks in no small part to the tailwind provided by investment yields nearly 8 percentage points above inflation.

Put another way, rates have to be about 15 percent higher today to achieve the same return as a generation ago, and that’s before considering inflation or any other changes in the marketplace.

A California Labor Commission ruling that an Uber driver is a company employee, not an independent contractor may dampen fears that the on-demand economy spells the end for workers compensation, liability and health insurance. At least for now.

As reported by numerous news outlets, here and here, the decision out of California – though it applies to a single driver – could significantly increase costs for the ride-sharing business if it is copied by other states and in other cases.

It could also have potential implications for other segments of the economy important to property/casualty insurers.

As the New York Times reports:

The classification of freelancers is in dispute across a number of industries, including at other transportation companies. And the debate is set to escalate as the number of online companies and apps like Uber and others rises.”

The ruling, which commentators say could hurt Uber’s $40 billion-plus valuation, orders Uber to pay Barbara Berwick, $4,152 in expenses for the time she worked as an Uber driver last year.

Here are a couple of key excerpts from the California Labor Commission decision:

Plaintiffs’ work was integral to Defendants’ business. Defendants are in business to provide transportation services to passengers. Plaintiff did the actual transporting of those passengers. Without drivers such as Plaintiff, Defendants’ business would not exist.”

And:

Defendants hold themselves as nothing more than a neutral technological platform, designed simply to enable drivers and passengers to transact the business of transportation. The reality, however, is that Defendants are involved in every aspect of the operation.”

In response to the ruling (which it has appealed) Uber stated:

The California Labor Commission’s ruling is non-binding and applies to a single driver. Indeed it is contrary to a previous ruling by the same commission, which concluded in 2012 that the driver ‘performed services as an independent contractor, and not as a bona fide employee.’ Five other states have also come to the same conclusion.”

Potential insurance issues arising out of the on-demand or sharing economy are a recurring topic of conversation these days.

In a recent presentation I.I.I. president Dr. Robert Hartwig noted that traditional insurance will often not cover a worker engaged in offering labor or resources through these on-demand platforms.

For example, private passenger auto insurance generally won’t cover you while driving for Uber and a homeowners insurance policy won’t cover a homeowner for anything other than occasional rents of their property.

Also, Dr. Hartwig said: “Unless self-procured, on-demand workers (independent contractors) will generally have no workers comp recourse if injured on the job.”

As South Korean authorities step up efforts to stop the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, from spreading further, the president of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim has warned that the next global pandemic could be far deadlier than any experienced in recent years.

Speaking in Frankfurt earlier this week, Dr Kim said Ebola revealed the shortcomings of international and national systems to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.

The next pandemic could move much more rapidly than Ebola, Dr Kim noted:

The Spanish Flu of 1918 killed an estimated 25 million people in 25 weeks. Bill Gates asked researchers to model the effect of a Spanish Flu-like illness on the modern world, and they predicted a similar disease would kill 33 million people in 250 days.”

It should come as no surprise that in a 2013 global survey, insurance industry executives said a global pandemic was their biggest worry, Dr Kim added.

The Financial Times blog The World points to World Bank estimates that a pandemic could kill tens of millions and wipe out between 5 to 10 percent of GDP of the global economy,

Meanwhile, South Korea is experiencing an outbreak of MERS second in size only to that in Saudi Arabia, where it originated in 2012, with 10 dead and 122 confirmed cases so far. Some 3,000 people are reported to have been quarantined to-date.

A Wall Street Journal Real Time Economics blog post points to the potential economic impact of MERS, noting that South Korea’s $30 billion tourism industry would bear the brunt. Analysts predict the outbreak could knock off anywhere from 0.1 to 0.8 percentage points from South Korea’s annual GDP growth.

Back to that 2013 insurance survey conducted by Towers Watson. Over 30,000 votes were cast and industry execs ranked global pandemic as their most important extreme risk in the long term.

I.I.I. has facts and statistics on mortality risk here.

By now you’ll have read the latest forecasts calling for a below-average Atlantic hurricane season.

NOAA, Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project, North Carolina State University, WSI and London-based consortium Tropical Storm Risk all seem to concur in their respective outlooks that the 2015 hurricane season which officially begins June 1 will be well below-norm.

TSR, for example, predicts Atlantic hurricane activity in 2015 will be about 65 percent below the long-term average. Should this forecast verify, TSR noted that it would imply that the active phase for Atlantic hurricane activity which began in 1995 has likely ended.

Still it’s important to note that the forecasts come with the caveat that all predictions are just that, and the likelihood of issuing a precise forecast in late May is at best moderate. In other words, uncertainties remain.

These are wise words.

A recent report by Karen Clark & Co pointed to the rising vulnerability of the U.S. to hurricanes and other coastal hazards because of increasing concentrations of property values along the coast.

Of the $90 trillion in total U.S. property exposure, over $16 trillion is in the first tier of Gulf and Atlantic coastal counties, an increase from $14.5 trillion in 2012, KCC said.

KCC then superimposed 100 year U.S. hurricane events on the 2014 property values in its database. The result was that three regions—Texas, Florida and the Northeast—emerge as the most likely for mega-catastrophes.

In all of these regions, the largest losses from the 100 year hurricanes making landfall near Galveston-Houston, Miami and Western Long Island, are much larger than the 100 year PMLs (Probable Maximum Losses).

As insurance industry execs know, it only takes one hurricane to make landfall for a below-average season to become active and record losses to ensue. Here’s a visual of what the 1992 season—the year of Hurricane Andrew—looked like, courtesy of Weather Underground:

at1992

Hurricane facts and statistics are available from the I.I.I. here.

Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) chief actuary James Lynch is on the road.

Spring is heavy conference season. I type this from an Orlando hotel room on May 14, after day one of the Annual Issues Symposium put on by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). Ahead are trips to Colorado, Philadelphia and Atlanta, as well as two meetings close to home, in New York.

The NCCI conference is perhaps best known for president and chief executive officer Steve Klingel’s summary of the workers compensation line in a single word or phrase. This year: Calm now . . . but turbulence ahead. With premium up 4.6 percent and the combined ratio (98) at its lowest since 2006, workers comp results have been good, but outside pressures could make the ride bumpy.

One pressure is low interest rates. Years can pass from the time an insurer collects premium and injury claims get paid, and insurers in the meantime invest that premium, with the proceeds helping pay for claims and bolstering profits.

Interest rates have been so low for so long that the industry can’t rely on interest rates to deliver results anymore.

Another is the sharing economy. As Dr. Robert Hartwig, president of the I.I.I. and an economist, noted later that day, the smartphone has made it easy to summon people to do ad hoc jobs, with the best known being Uber’s ride-sharing battalion.

Those workers are independent contractors (though that has been challenged) and as such don’t get traditional benefits, including workers comp coverage. As the sharing economy grows, workers comp could shrink.

The third is a series of attacks on the basic principles of workers compensation. News reports suggest workers comp doesn’t compensate injuries equitably; lawsuits suggest the line has violated the Grand Bargain that gives up a big tort payoff in exchange for a steady flow of benefits; and a nascent movement would let employers opt out of the workers compensation system altogether.

But workers comp has survived a lot in the century since it took hold in the United States and seems well-equipped to handle the, well, turbulence.

“While I am confident that we will work our way through these challenges,” Klingel said, “it is important to be realistic about current conditions and to recognize that the current positive results may not last.”

The I.I.I. has more workers comp facts and statistics available here.

It’s always heartening to read about insurance being made available to a market or sector that for whatever reason has not been able to benefit from risk transfer in the face of natural disaster.

So the news that countries of Central America will now be able to access affordable catastrophe cover by joining the former Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility—now the CCRIF SPC—is a positive.

A memorandum of understanding signed by the Council of Ministers of Finance of Central America, Panama and the Dominican Republic (COSEFIN) and CCRIF SPC will allow Central American countries to join the sovereign catastrophe risk insurance pool.

Nicaragua has signed a participation agreement to become the first Central American country to join the pool. Other member nations of COSEFIN are expected to join later this year and in 2016.

A press release puts some context around the need:

Nine countries in Central America and the Caribbean experienced at least one disaster with an economic impact of more than 50 percent of their annual gross domestic product (GDP) since 1980.

The impact of Haiti’s earthquake was estimated at 120 percent of GDP. That same year, tropical cyclone Agatha, in Guatemala, had devastating consequences and poverty rates increased by 5.5 percent.

Climate change also represents a significant development challenge, with average economic losses due to weather-related disasters amounting to 1 percent or more of GDP in 10 Caribbean countries and four Central American nations, including Nicaragua.”

As Artemis blog reports here, some 16 Caribbean countries are now members of the 2007-established CCRIF SPC, benefiting from parametric insurance products covering tropical storm and hurricane risks, earthquake risks or excess rainfall risks.

The risk pooling facility helps its members to access post-event risk financing, based on the actual event parameters, with a rapid payout and disbursement of as little as two weeks possible. This enables countries to access financing for recovery from natural catastrophes, while benefiting from cheaper premiums due to the risk pooling nature.”

The newly-expanded 23-nation partnership is a win-win for both existing and new CCRIF members, providing low prices due to more efficient use of capital and insurance market instruments. New members will be able to take advantage of CCRIF’s low premium costs and existing members could realize premium reductions due to the increased size of the CCRIF portfolio.

Consider this example: the CCRIF made a $7.75 million payout to the Haitian government some two weeks after the January 2010 earthquake hit close to Port-au-Prince. The value represented approximately 20 times the premium of $385,500 based on Haiti’s catastrophe insurance policy for earthquakes for the 2009/2010 policy year.

A major hurricane or earthquake hitting a densely populated metropolitan area like Miami or Los Angeles will leave insurers facing losses that far exceed their estimated 100 year probable maximum loss (PML) due to highly concentrated property values, a new report suggests.

In its analysis, Karen Clark & Company (KCC) notes that the PMLs that the insurance industry has been using to manage risk and rating agencies and regulators have been using to monitor solvency can give a false sense of security.

For example, it says the 100 year hurricane making a direct hit on downtown Miami will cause over $250 billion insured losses today, twice the estimated 100 year PML.

Insurers typically manage their potential catastrophe losses to the 100 year PMLs, but because of increasingly concentrated property values in several major metropolitan areas, the losses insurers will suffer from the 100 year event will greatly exceed their estimated 100 year PMLs.”

Instead, the report suggests new risk metrics—Characteristic Events (CEs)—could help insurers better understand their catastrophe loss potential and avoid surprise solvency-impairing events.

The CE approach defines the probabilities of a mega-catastrophe event based on the hazard rather than the loss and gives a more complete picture of catastrophe loss potential.

Rather than simulating many thousands of random events, the CE approach creates events using all of the scientific knowledge about the events in specific regions.

This information is then used to develop events with characteristics reflecting various return periods of interest, such as 100 and 250 year, which are then floated to estimate losses at specific locations.

To protect against solvency-impairing events, the report suggests insurers should monitor their exposure concentrations with additional metrics, such as the CEs and the CE to PML ratio.

KCC estimates that overall U.S. insured property values increased by 9 percent from 2012 to 2014, faster than the general economy.

The state with the most property value is California, followed by New York and Texas. The top 10 states account for over 50 percent of the U.S. total.

U.S. vulnerability to hurricanes and other coastal hazards continues to rise because of increasing concentrations of property values along the coast.

Of the $90 trillion in total U.S. property exposure, over $16 trillion is in the first tier of Gulf and Atlantic coastal counties, up from $14.5 trillion in 2012, KCC estimates.

 

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