Insurers and the Economy


A report just released by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) puts a $277 billion price tag on the economic costs of traffic crashes in the United States in 2010, a 20 percent increase over its 2000 data.

The economic costs are equivalent to approximately $897 for every person living in the U.S. and 1.9 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, the NHTSA says, and based on the 32,999 fatalities, 3.9 million non-fatal injuries, and 24 million damaged vehicles that took place in 2010.

Included in these economic costs are lost productivity, medical costs, legal and court costs, emergency service costs (EMS), insurance administration costs, congestion costs, property damage and workplace losses.

When you add in the $594 billion societal cost of crashes, such as harm from the loss of life and pain and decreased quality of life due to injuries, the total impact of crashes is $877 billion.

The following chart breaks out the economic costs:

It’s interesting to note that the most significant components were property damage and lost market productivity. In dollar terms, property damage losses were responsible for $76.1 billion and lost productivity (both market and household) for $93.1 billion.

The NHTSA explains that for lost productivity, these high costs are a function of the level of disability that has been documented for crashes involving injury and death. For property damage, costs are mainly a function of the very high incidence of minor crashes in which injury does not occur or is negligible.

Another takeaway from the survey is the impact of congestion, which accounts for some $28 billion, or 10 percent of total economic costs. This includes travel delay, added fuel consumption, and pollution impacts caused by congestion at the crash site.

There’s a separate chapter of the NHTSA report devoted to congestion impacts that includes some fascinating data.

For additional data on motor vehicle crashes, check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on highway safety.

Global insurance markets are seeing stronger growth, thanks to the economic upswing in many industrialized countries, according to an annual study by Munich Re.

Munich Re’s Insurance Market Outlook 2014 finds that rate increases in a number of high volume markets are also having a positive effect on premium growth.

At the global level, Munich Re expects real overall growth in primary insurance premiums at 2.8 percent this year and 3.2 percent in 2015, influenced mainly by stronger growth again in life insurance.

[In 2013, global insurance markets saw restrained growth of 2.1 percent in real terms, with primary insurance premiums in the life insurance segment growing by just 1.8 percent, due to a number of regulatory one-off effects.]

While in recent years dynamic growth in emerging countries has served as the decisive growth driver of global premium volumes, especially in property/casualty insurance, Munich Re notes that it is the industrial countries whose contribution to growth is currently increasing.

Many emerging countries are currently experiencing a cooling of their economies, and this is expected to have a dampening effect on premium growth in 2014 and 2015.

In the long-term however, Munich Re expects that emerging countries will continue to become more important for the global insurance markets.

The emerging Asian countries will see the highest increases, with their share of global premium volume expected to rise by 5 percentage points, from 9 percent in 2013 to 14 percent in 2020.

The Chinese market, already the fourth-largest primary insurance market with premium volume of over €210 billion in 2013, will more than double by 2020 to become the third-largest market worldwide, according to Munich Re.

Images of wildfires burning in suburban neighborhoods in Southern California are a reminder of the risk faced by many homeowners.

Nearly 2 million, or 14.5 percent, of the 13.7 million homes in California face severe wildfire risk, according to the most recent FireLine State Risk Report by Verisk Underwriting Solutions.

Some 417,500 of these high-risk homes are located in Los Angeles County, while 239,400 are located in San Diego County.

Check out this snapshot from the Verisk report illustrating California’s wildfire risk:

For the latest information on the wildfires burning in the state go to the CAL FIRE (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) site.

I.I.I. facts and statistics on wildfires are available here.

Good news for insurers. Latest data points to a promising decline in the national problem of metal theft, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

In a new report, the NICB notes that in just three years the number of metal theft insurance claims has declined by over 26 percent from 14,676 in 2011 to 10,807 in 2013.

The report reviews metal theft claims from January 1, 2011, through December 31, 2013.

During this period, 41,138 insurance claims for the theft of copper, bronze, brass or aluminum were handled – of which 39,976 (97 percent) were for copper alone.

The NICB notes that when the number of metal theft insurance claims per month and monthly average copper prices are compared, the number of claims filed is found to have a statistically significant correlation with the price of copper.

Tightening controls on the sale of scrap metal have had a positive impact in local communities, the NICB says.

Ohio still ranks first of all states generating 4,144 metal theft claims in 2013, followed by Texas (2,827), California (2,489), Pennsylvania (2,345) and Georgia (2,067).

New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA (1,725 claims) was the leading statistical area generating the most metal theft claims.

More on the link between copper prices and incidents of metal theft in this NICB video.

If you haven’t read it already, the April edition of the Global Catastrophe Recap Report by Aon Benfield’s Impact Forecasting puts some numbers around the thunderstorm events that devastated parts of the United States last month.

According to the report, severe weather and flash flooding that caused extensive damage across more than 20 states in April will likely be the first billion-dollar economic loss event of 2014 attributed to convective thunderstorms.

At least 39 people were killed and 250 injured amid nearly 70 confirmed tornado touch-downs, which occurred across more than 20 states in the Plains, Mississippi Valley, Southeast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic.

Economic losses are set to exceed $1 billion, with insured losses minimally in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Impact Forecasting reports.

Another U.S. severe weather outbreak in April led to major damage in parts of the Plains, Midwest and the Mississippi Valley. The most significant damage was due to hail, as hailstones the size of softballs struck the Denton, Texas metro region.

Total economic losses were estimated at $950 million, with insured losses in excess of $650 million, according to the report.

In a press release Adama Podlaha, head of Impact Forecasting, says:

The recent outbreaks of tornadoes, large hail and damaging straight-line winds in the United States have emphasized the importance of historical data analysis for insurers and reinsurers when trying to forecast future losses.”

If you’re wondering how many convective thunderstorm events made the list of significant natural catastrophes in 2013, take a look at this slide from a presentation made by I.I.I. president Dr. Robert Hartwig at the National Tornado Summit in February.

It shows that thunderstorms accounted for six of the nine significant natural catastrophe events with $1 billion economic loss and/or 50 fatalities in 2013.

Allowing the terrorism risk insurance program to expire could increase federal spending by billions of dollars in the event of a future terrorist attack, according to a new study by RAND Corporation.

RAND reports that for terrorist attacks with losses up to about $50 billion, not having the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) in place would result in higher federal spending.

For terrorist attacks with losses ranging from $14 billion to $26 billion, RAND predicts the federal government would spend $1.5 billion to $7 billion more without TRIA than with the program in place.

The greater federal spending without TRIA would result from less insurance coverage, leading to greater uninsured loss and hence greater demand for federal disaster assistance.

RAND’s analysis comes as a bipartisan agreement was introduced in the Senate last week that would extend TRIA for seven years, with changes in the insurer co-pay and mandatory recoupment threshold.

An excerpt from the RAND report reads:

If allowing TRIA to expire causes terrorism insurance coverage to revert to pre-TRIA levels, a greater fraction of loss in a terrorist attack would go uninsured than would be the case with TRIA in place. More loss going uninsured would increase demand for other forms of compensation, which could, in turn, lead to an increase in other (non-TRIA) forms of federal disaster assistance.”

The study makes the point that the federal government currently makes no net expenditures under TRIA until the commercial insurance industry has paid at least $27.5 billion in claims in TRIA-eligible lines.

As the size of the attack increases and the insured loss increases beyond the $27.5 billion industry retention amount, the federal liability through TRIA kicks in.

Based on current take-up rates, a 9/11 type attack would result in an insured loss of about $33 billion, RAND notes. Therefore, taxpayers would contribute through TRIA only in an attack comparable in magnitude to 9/11, which remains the second most costly insurance event in U.S. history, exceeded only by Hurricane Katrina.

For attacks with greater losses, in excess of $50 billion, the increase in disaster assistance after an attack without TRIA begins to be countered by the elimination of federal payments through the TRIA program, eventually leading to a net decrease in federal spending should TRIA expire.

RAND concludes:

From the perspective of federal spending, TRIA therefore appears to be a reasonable federal policy: In the absence of a terrorist attack, it costs taxpayers relatively little, and in the event of a terrorist attack comparable to any experienced before, it is expected to save taxpayers money.”

Claims Journal reports on the study findings here.

Hurricane forecasters are sounding a warning bell for the U.S. East coast in their latest predictions for the 2014 hurricane season, even as overall tropical storm activity is predicted to be much-less than normal.

WeatherBell Analytics says the very warm water off of the Eastern Seaboard is a concern, along with the oncoming El Niño conditions.

In its latest commentary forecaster Joe Bastardi and the WeatherBell team notes:

We think this is a challenging year, one that has a greater threat of higher intensity storms closer to the coast, and, where like 2012, warnings will frequently be issued with the first official NHC advisory.”

WeatherBell Analytics is calling for a total of 8 to 10 named storms, with 3-5 hurricanes and 1-2 major hurricanes.

According to WeatherBell, there have been plenty of El Niño years with high impact seasons for the U.S. coast: 1957, 1965, 1969, 1976, 1983 (fading but still there), 1991, 1992, 2002, and 2004.

The forecasters say this pattern favors stronger storms (relative to normals) in-close to the U.S. rather than in the deep tropics which will have less to much-less than normal activity this year.

There is nothing to prohibit another Sandy-type hit from the southeast or three storms up the East Coast in one year despite a relatively low number of named storms in a season.”

Check out this post by Eric Holthaus over at Slate’s Future Tense blog for his take on how this year’s El Niño could grow into a monster.

Meanwhile, London-based consortium Tropical Storm Risk (TSR) has lowered its forecast and predicts Atlantic hurricane activity in 2014 will be about 25 percent below the 1950-2013 long-term norm and about 40 percent below the recent 2004-2013 10-year norm.

In its updated forecast TSR is calling for 12 named storms, 5 hurricanes and 2 major (Category 3 and higher) hurricanes.

TSR says two key factors in its forecast for below-normal activity are: lighter trade winds over the Caribbean and North Atlantic coinciding with the likely development of a moderate El Niño; and cooler than normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic.

TSR says both these predictors will have a moderately suppressing effect on activity.

A post over at Artemis blog points out that while El Niño typically results in a below average hurricane season in terms of the number of storms that form, that is no guarantee of a benign season in terms of catastrophic losses as that is down to the strength or severity and path of any storms that do form.

Updated forecasts will be released around June 1, when hurricane season opens.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on hurricanes.

The second earthquake to strike the Los Angeles area on March 28 is a wake-up call and reminder of the risk to commercial and residential properties in Southern California, according to catastrophe modeling firm EQECAT.

(The M5.1 quake located 1 mile south of La Habre follows the M4.4 earthquake near Beverley Hills (30 miles to the northwest) on March 17.)

In its report on the latest quake, EQECAT notes that most homeowners do not carry earthquake insurance (only about 12 percent of Californians have earthquake coverage, according to I.I.I. stats), and those that do typically carry deductibles ranging from 10 percent to 15 percent of the replacement value of the home, and commercial insurance often carries large deductibles and strict limits on insurance coverage.

The remainder of the risk which is not insured is retained by property owners and frequently, their lenders. EQECAT reports:

CoreLogic regional studies have noted that a major earthquake in the Los Angeles Basin could easily produce damages to residential and commercial property exceeding $200 billion (Source: the EQECAT Insured Loss Database, 2013). The general lack of insurance coverage and high deductibles have led to concerns over the likelihood of widespread residential mortgage defaults arising from a large basin earthquake.”

This raises an important point.

Concerns have been raised before (here) about how the lack of mandatory earthquake insurance in California would result in high levels of mortgage defaults should a major earthquake occur, with widespread economic implications.

The post-quake scenario envisioned is one in which homeowners walk away from their damaged homes without repairing them, leaving many homes in foreclosure and forcing banks to bear the brunt of the loss in capital.

The potential knock-on effect for insurers and reinsurers? The loss of home ownership could severely diminish incoming capital on homeowner insurance policies.

According to an Aon Benfield report, the 1994 Northridge earthquake cost the mortgage industry up to $400 million in mortgage defaults due to foreclosure expenses, property repair costs, lost interest income, write-downs of existing loan balances and other administrative costs.

Check out an informative I.I.I. background paper on earthquake risk and insurance issues here.

Swiss Re’s final tally of 2013 global cat losses highlights the growing risk protection gap between economic losses and insured losses.

Total economic losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters amounted to $140 billion in 2013, of which almost one third – around $45 billion – were insured.

This means that in 2013 the global protection gap (the level of uninsured losses) was $95 billion.

Swiss Re notes:

Economic development, population growth, urbanization and a higher concentration of assets in exposed areas are increasing the economic cost of natural disasters. In addition, climate change is expected to increase weather-related losses in the future. All of the above, if not accompanied by a commensurate increase in insurance penetration, results in a widening protection gap.”

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been any progress over the years in the area of risk prevention and mitigation measures.

Swiss Re makes the point that a very effective pre-designed evacuation drive saved thousands of lives when Cyclone Phailin made landfall in Odisha, India in October 2013, with winds up to 260km per hour.

However, the cyclone destroyed around 100,000 homes and more than 1.3 million hectares of cropland.

Kurt Karl, chief economist at Swiss Re, says:

The total economic loss of Cyclone Phailin is estimated to be $4.5 billion, with just a tiny portion covered by insurance. The insurance industry can play a much larger role in helping societies deal with the fallout of disaster events, such as this and Typhoon Haiyan.”

Meanwhile, a post at Artemis blog suggests that sustaining local markets is the key to increasing insurance penetration and ultimately narrowing the gap between economic and insured losses:

In order to narrow this gap reinsurers and insurers need to work together with development organisations and the capital markets to create risk transfer facilities that truly meet the goal of growing insurance penetration. Sustaining local markets is key here. Initiatives which seek to create new capacity for a single, often reinsurer, backer just don’t seem to be having the desired effect so far and at the moment seem less likely to be sustainable over the longer-term.”

Here’s the Swiss Re chart showing the difference between total losses and insured losses from 1970 to 2013, highlighting the widening protection gap over the last 40 years:

Check out our prior post on the widening gap between economic and insured cat losses here.

The Terrorism Risk Insurance Program, a public/private risk-sharing partnership which is set to expire at the end of 2014, is absolutely critical to maintaining the health of the American economy, according to an updated white paper just released by the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

The I.I.I.’s Terrorism Risk: A Constant Threat, Impacts for Property/Casualty Insurers explains that should the federal Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (TRIPRA) be allowed to expire at year-end 2014, this would have a detrimental impact on the availability and affordability of terrorism insurance for businesses.

Introducing the paper, Dr. Robert Hartwig, I.I.I. president and an economist says:

The war on terror is far from over, as last year’s Boston Marathon bombings and other events around the world attest, but TRIA by all objective measures is now a proven and unqualified success. The program not only succeeded in restoring stability to the country’s vital insurance and reinsurance markets in the years immediately following 9/11, but it continues more than a decade later to deliver substantive, direct benefits to millions of businesses, workers, consumers and the overall economy—all at essentially no cost to taxpayers.”

Industry data shows that the proportion of businesses buying property terrorism insurance (the take-up rate for terrorism coverage) has increased since the enactment of TRIA in 2002. In fact for the last five years, some 60 percent of businesses nationally have purchased terrorism coverage, usually at a reasonable cost.

Dr. Hartwig notes that industries responsible for much of the country’s critical infrastructure such as power and utilities, telecommunications and health care, along with financial institutions and local government have take-up rates that approach or exceed 70 percent.

Moreover, the take-up rate for workers compensation is effectively 100 percent, meaning that every worker in America is protected against injuries suffered as the result of a terrorist attack, he adds.

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