Category Archives: Insurers and the Economy

Billion-Dollar Insured Disaster Events Add Up

The first half of 2016 saw at least six individual billion-dollar insured disaster events globally, three of which occurred in the United States, according to Aon Benfield’s Global Catastrophe Recap: First Half of 2016.

Four of these events crossed the multi-billion dollar threshold ($2 billion and greater).

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As seen in the chart above the most costly event was a series of earthquakes that struck Japan’s Kumamoto prefecture in April with total insured losses—including losses due to physical damage and business interruption—expected to total in excess of $5 billion.

Other major loss events in the first half included:

—the late May and early June flooding and severe weather (Storm Elvira) in Europe ($3.4 billion insured losses);

—the Fort McMurray wildfire ($3.2 billion insured losses);

—the April 10-15 severe convective storm outbreak in the central United States ($3.2 billion insured losses).

Aon Benfield notes that all of the estimates from both public and private insurers are subject to revision as losses are further developed.

A deeper dive into the data reveals that there were at least 14 events that minimally cost insurers $500 million in the first half of 2016, eight of which were recorded in the U.S. and were all severe convective storm or flood-related.

Globally, public and private insurers endured an elevated level of disaster losses—$30 billion—during the first half of 2016, some 60 percent higher than the $19 billion sustained in 2015. The U.S. sustained the highest level of insurable losses at $14 billion.

The aggregated $30 billion was only the third time on record that first and second quarter losses reached that threshold—even after adjusting for inflation to today’s dollars, Aon Benfield said.

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

Thunderstorms Most Costly U.S. Nat Cat in H1 2016

Severe thunderstorms accounted for the lion’s share of U.S. natural disaster losses in the first half of 2016, according to Munich Re.

Of the $17 billion in U.S. economic losses ($11 billion insured) caused by natural catastrophes in the first half of 2016, some $12.3 billion ($8.8 billion insured) were due to a series of storms in Texas and neighboring states, including destructive hailstorms in Dallas and San Antonio, and severe flooding in the Houston metro area.

Winter storms and cold waves were the next most costly U.S. peril in the first half causing insured losses of $1.5 billion, followed by flood and flash flood events with $1 billion in insured losses.

Wildfire, heatwaves and drought resulted in minor insured losses, and there were no losses due to earthquake or tropical cyclones in the first half, according to Munich Re’s Nat Cat Update.

USNatCatLosses2016H1MunichRe

Weather extremes in Texas and other southern states are symptomatic of an El Niño phase, which intensifies the subtropical jet stream, which can cause an increase in severe storms in the region, Munich Re said.

Further north, El Niño conditions also caused warm and dry conditions in Alaska and western Canada, helping to trigger the worst wildfire in Canadian history. Direct losses from these fires totaled $3.6 billion, of which $2.7 billion were insured.

The Fort McMurray fire has been declared the costliest natural catastrophe event in Canada’s history.

One beneficial aspect of El Niño conditions is that it tends to reduce springtime tornado activity over the southern Great Plains. While the year’s thunderstorm season got off to an early start, the states of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas have all seen about 50 percent fewer tornadoes this year than in the first half of 2015, Munich Re observed.

Nationally, the number of observed tornadoes was about 700 by the end of June, significantly below the average of 1,021 for the last 10 years.

Tony Kuczinski, president and CEO of Munich Re America, Inc, noted that homes and businesses incur the brunt of thunderstorm losses.

“Property damage from this spring’s thunderstorm season remind us that a roof is a building’s first line of defense against hail and wind events. Proper roof maintenance, roofing materials and installation are all critical to helping reduce these types of losses.”

To help homeowners build safer, stronger structures in the face of increasing severe weather events, Munich Re and the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) recently launchd an app that walks homeowners, contractors and architects through the home strengthening process.

FORTIFIED HomeTM On the Go can be downloaded free from the iTunes Store.

U.S. natural catastrophes accounted for almost one quarter of worldwide economic losses in the first half of 2016, and about 58 percent of global insured losses.

June Flood Losses Highlight Insurance Protection Gap

The economic cost of flood losses worldwide in June will exceed $5 billion, though the insured loss portion will be significantly less, according to Aon Benfield’s latest Global Catastrophe Recap.

Impact Forecasting, the cat modeling center of Aon Benfield, reports that major June floods highlighted by China and U.S. events, saw the global economic toll mount.

Seasonal “Mei-Yu” monsoon rains led to multiple rounds of significant flooding across central and southern parts of China throughout June, resulting in more than 130 fatalities.

The most damaging floods occurred in the Yangtze River basin as rivers and tributaries overflowed their banks and minimally inundated 200,000 homes. Beyond property damage, there were substantial impacts to the agricultural sector.

Impact Forecasting said:

“Total aggregated economic losses were estimated by the Ministry of Civil Affairs at upwards of CNY29 billion (USD4.4 billion). Given low penetration levels, the insured loss portion was only a small fraction of the overall damage cost.”

Exceptional rainfall in the U.S. state of West Virginia also led to catastrophic flooding in several counties. The federal government declared a disaster after major damage occurred in Clay, Fayette, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Monroe, Nicholas, Roane, and Summers counties, As many as 5,500 homes and 125 businesses were damaged or destroyed.

“Total economic losses were anticipated to reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The insured loss portion of the loss was expected to be less given rather low up-take in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).”

Additional major flood events in the month of June occurred in India, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Ghana, according to the report.

The gap between economic and insured losses for both major flood events in China and the U.S. illustrates the need for greater insurance penetration around the globe.

A 2015 Swiss Re report estimated the current annual disaster protection gap between insured and total losses at around $153 billion, assuming an average catastrophe loss year.

In absolute terms, the U.S., Japan and China account for more than half that amount, with a combined annual shortfall of $81 billion, Swiss Re said.

A 2015 poll by the Insurance Information Institute found that 14 percent of American homeowners had a flood insurance policy. This percentage has been at about the same level every year since 2009.

Global Insured Disaster Losses in May: $7 billion and Counting

At least $7 billion—that’s how much global disasters and severe weather are expected to cost insurers and reinsurers in May.

Aon Benfield’s latest Global Catastrophe Recap Report notes that the Fort McMurray wildfire in Alberta, Canada, will become the costliest disaster in the country’s history.

Insured losses—including physical damage and business interruption—are expected to be in excess of $3.1 billion, while total economic losses will be well into the billions of dollars.

The fire charred more than 580,000 hectares (1.43 million acres) of land and destroyed at least 10 percent of Fort McMurray, including more than 2,400 homes and other structures.

Remarkably, no direct casualties were reported from the event as it prompted the largest evacuation in the history of Alberta.

Adam Podlaha, global head of Impact Forecasting, says:

“The severity of wildfire damage in Fort McMurray is an unfortunate reminder of how significant insurable losses can be from the peril.”

And:

“Since this is just the sixth individual global wildfire to surpass the billion-dollar threshold for insurers, there is not a lot of precedent for a fire event of this magnitude.”

Check out Insurance Information Institute wildfire facts and statistics here.

Elsewhere, severe weather and flooding in Europe where the storm ‘Elvira’ swept across parts of northern Europe between late May and early June caused most damage in Germany, France, Austria, Poland and Belgium, where floods impacted many major metro regions, including Paris.

Preliminary estimates from industry associations in France (MAIF) and Germany (GDV) put the estimated combined minimum claims payouts at in excess of $2.3 billion, while overall economic damage is tentatively estimated at $4.6 billion.

May also saw no fewer than five outbreaks of severe convective storms in the United States, affecting parts of the Plains, Midwest, and Mississippi Valley. Storm-related flooding also caused major damage in parts of Texas.

Total aggregated insured losses were estimated at over $1 billion, Aon’s Impact Forecasting unit said.

Meanwhile, Cyclone Roanu brought torrential rain to Sri Lanka, eastern India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China during May, damaging or destroying nearly 125,000 homes and structures across all five countries. Estimated reconstruction costs were put at $1.7 billion, though insured losses are substantially less due to low insurance penetration.

Even after all that, May was not done, with other notable natural hazard events around the globe, including:

—Five separate instances of flooding impacted China as aggregated economic losses topped $1.5 billion. Most of the damage was attributed to agricultural interests.

—Other major flood and landslide events in May were reported in parts of Hispaniola, Kenya, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Ethiopia, India and Yemen.

—Tropical Storm Bonnie brought heavy rainfall to portions of the Carolinas and Georgia in the United States at the end of May and into June. Total economic losses were expected to be minimal.

—Earthquakes in Ecuador and China caused damages to thousands of homes and a winter weather outbreak in northern China caused damage to crops totaling $61 million.

P/C Industry Resilient Even in Face of Disaster

The property/casualty insurance industry is, and will remain, extremely well capitalized and financially prepared to pay very large scale losses in 2016 and beyond, according to Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) president Dr. Robert Hartwig and chief economist Dr. Steven Weisbart.

In their commentary on the industry’s 2015 year end results, Drs. Hartwig and Weisbart note that overall industry capacity remains near an all-time record high.

“Overall industry capacity (policyholder surplus) slipped slightly to $673.7 billion as of December 31, 2015, but was still extraordinarily strong, as measured by a premium-to-surplus ratio of 0.76—virtually the strongest it has ever been.”

They go on:

“Thanks to a surging stock market until 2015, policyholders’ surplus has generally continued to increase with the end of the Great Recession and three consecutive years without large-scale catastrophe losses. But the lack of stock gains in 2015 ended (or at least stalled) this trend.”

At $673.7 billion as of December 31, 2015, policyholders’ surplus was down $1.5 billion or 0.23 percent from year-end 2014.

The bottom line is that the industry is extremely well-capitalized, even in the face of disaster.

As the I.I.I. reports:

“The fact that the P/C industry was able to rapidly and fully recoup its losses to surplus even in the event of disasters like superstorm Sandy (which produced $18.8 billion in insured losses in 2012) is continued evidence of its remarkable resilience in the face of extreme adversity.”

Other takeaways of the industry’s 2015 year end results: moderate profits in 2015, as measured by a return on average surplus of 8.4 percent, virtually the same as in 2014; modest premium growth (net written premiums in 2015 crossed the half-trillion-dollar mark to $514.0 billion, although the rate of increase slipped slightly to 3.4 percent growth from 4.2 percent in 2014); and a below-100 combined ratio for the fourth straight year (97.8 in 2015, compared with 97.0 in 2014).

The industry results were released by ISO, a Verisk Analytics company, and the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI).

Tianjin: A Reminder of Insurance Need in Developing Countries

The explosions at the Port of Tianjin, China could ultimately become one of the largest man-made insurance loss events worldwide ever recorded, according to Swiss Re sigma.

Based on Swiss Re’s latest estimates, the total insured property loss of the Tianjin explosions is likely to be around USD 2.5 billion to USD 3.5 billion, making it the largest man-made insured loss event in Asia ever recorded.

Tianjin currently ranks as the third largest man-made insured global loss (in 2015 dollars), behind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania and the 1988 Piper Alpha oil rig disaster.

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The Tianjin experience highlights the new potential risks facing developing countries with rapidly-developing economies, according to the latest sigma study.

2015 was the third year in a row that the biggest man-made loss globally originated from an emerging market, a reminder of the importance of insurance for developing countries, sigma says.

“The event shows the large loss potential in a country like China, with a fast-growing economy. If further evidence is needed, in 2013 a fire at a major high-tech semiconductor plant in Wuxi, also in China, caused insured losses of USD 0.9 billion.”

Financial protection through insurance is key to restoring business operations and recouping losses, sigma notes.

Accurate assessment of exposures, appropriate coverage terms and adequate pricing are likewise crucial:

“For re/insurers, they need to actively identify monitor and manage exposures in hazard zones and in areas with high asset-value concentrations.”

The complexities of the Tianjin loss have challenged re/insurers, and highlighted the accumulation of risks that can arise from a single large-scale industrial catastrophe event.

While destroyed and damaged vehicles account for most of the Tianjin losses, uncertainties remain as to the types of insurance policies involved.

Property and cargo present major risk accumulation factors in ports, especially in big centers like Tianjin, sigma observes.

The Insurance Information Institute has useful facts and statistics on man-made disasters here.

How Falling Oil Prices Affect Energy Losses

Is there a connection between falling oil prices and insurance claims?

This question is tackled by broker Marsh in a just-released research report: Can Energy Firms Break the Historical Nexus Between Oil Price Falls and Large Losses?

According to Marsh, insured losses in the global upstream energy sector reached a peak in the 1980s, shortly after the price of Brent crude oil fell from $35 to $15 per barrel.

In the late 1990s, this cycle occurred again when the price fell below $10 per barrel and again in the years following the 2008 slump, when the price fell from more than $100 to $32 per barrel.

When oil prices fall, companies face less revenue and more strain on budgets. Already, Marsh notes that oil and gas companies have been canceling projects and making staffing reductions.

But there are other potential cuts that are harder to quantify such as cuts in maintenance, health and safety measures, and employee training.

Cost-cutting decisions such as these appear to have led to increased losses in the past, according to the Marsh report:

Based on past experience, when this pullback in funding occurs, if it hasn’t already, we would expect to see an increase in losses soon after.”

Here’s the chart showing the link between oil prices and insurance claims:

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Despite falling revenues, Marsh urges energy firms to maintain their investment in risk management to reduce the potential for future major incidents and insurance claims.

Marsh also suggests that now is the time for energy firms to take advantage of lower prices in a benign insurance market to push for increased protection in uncertain times.

With the cost of insurance capital at historic lows, the opportunity clearly exists for companies to access cheap sources of capital from the insurance markets, reduce overall insurance premium costs, purchase insurance in areas that were previously omitted due to cost, and renegotiate coverage terms.”

Latest on Commercial P/C Insurance Pricing in 2016

Two separate market surveys point to a continuing decline in commercial property/casualty insurance rates.

Online insurance exchange MarketScout reported that the composite rate for p/c  business placed in the United States declined by 4 percent in January 2016.

Richard Kerr, CEO of MarketScout, noted that commercial property rates dropped from minus 2 percent in December 2015 to minus 5 percent in January 2016.

Commercial property insurers are getting ready to scratch each other’s eyes out as they fight for market share. We see nothing to prevent commercial property rates from dropping further.”

Business interruption, BOPs, professional liability and D&O coverages were also more competitively priced in January 2016 versus December 2015, MarketScout said.

By account size, large and jumbo accounts (over $250,001) were assessed rates slightly higher in January 2016 than in the prior month–bucking the usual trend, while rates for small and medium sized accounts (all under $250,000) were more competitive.

Meanwhile, the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers’ (The Council) fourth quarter Commercial P/C Market Index Survey showed that 2015 closed as it began–with continued decreases in commercial p/c rates.

All size accounts experienced decreases in the fourth quarter of 2015, consistent with the downward trend seen in the prior three quarters. Large accounts saw the biggest decrease at 3.7 percent, followed by medium-sized accounts at 3 percent, and small accounts at 1.5 percent, The Council said.

By line, the largest decreases were seen in commercial property, down 3.5 percent, and general liability, down 3.4 percent. Umbrella policy rates declined an average of 2.8 percent while workers compensation rates were down an average of 2.6 percent.

Ken A. Crerar, president/CEO of The Council noted:

This soft market presents both challenges and opportunities for brokers. Lower rates meant less revenue but as the economy improved, policyholders were seeking increased limits and additional lines of coverage. This gave our members a chance to be creative and provide added value to their clients beyond just negotiating lower rates.”

The Council will continue to monitor how trends and advancements like industry consolidation, the burgeoning cyber insurance market and the use of technology in modeling and underwriting impact rates and capacity in the insurance market in 2016.

Insurance Information Institute  commentary on the p/c industry financial results can be found here.

Modernizing Regulation Key To Insuring Sharing Economy

How free are insurers to provide the insurance products consumers want?

That’s a key question that the R Street Institute’s Insurance Regulation Report Card seeks to answer.

And it’s a very good question.

In the fourth and latest edition of the report R Street observes that regulation, in some cases, may hinder the speed with which new products are brought to market:

We believe innovative new products could be more widespread if more states were to free their insurance markets by embracing regulatory modernization.”

R Street says the most recent illustration of this challenge is seen in the different approaches individual states have taken to enable the timely introduction of commercial and personal insurance policies to cover ridesharing.

A compromise model bill to govern insurance requirements for ridesharing was announced by major representatives of the insurance industry and the burgeoning transportation network companies in March 2015.

The legislation alleviated what had been a major source of interindustry friction, R Street notes.

The model requires that:

– liability insurance with limits of $1 million be in-force any time a driver either is actively transporting a customer or en route to pick up a fare.

– any other time the driver is logged in to the TNC service, he or she must have coverage with minimum liability limits of $50,000 per passenger, $100,000 per incident and $25,000 for physical damage liability.

R Street writes:

The model would permit coverage to be procured either by the driver or the TNC,   expressly stipulates that it may be provided by the surplus lines market, preserves insurers’ right to exclude coverage and encourages states to approve new products to cover this emerging risk.”

Signatories to the compromise include Allstate, the American Insurance Association, Farmers Insurance, Lyft, the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, State Farm, Uber Technologies and USAA.

The report notes that in April 2015, Georgia became the first state to pass the compromise model ridesharing bill. The measure, H.B. 190, took effect January 1, 2016.

Have more questions? Check out the Insurance Information Institute’s (I.I.I.) Q&A on Ridesharing and Insurance.

An I.I.I. issues update on regulation modernization is available here.

U.S. Elections Add to Growing Political Risks Businesses Face

The 2016 U.S. presidential election is one of the rising political risks facing businesses and investors in the year ahead, according to Marsh’s Political Risk Map 2016.

Terrorism and struggling emerging economies, such as China and Russia, are also among the growing political risks businesses face.

Marsh notes that the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California have intensified political rhetoric and brought foreign relations and defense policy topics to the forefront.

With polls showing national security to be a major concern for voters, foreign policy will remain a key theme on the campaign trail in 2016 – and will be top of mind for the next presidential administration.”

Marsh observes that in the last decade multinational organizations have undertaken unprecedented international expansion, leaving them exposed to global credit and political risks like never before.

And those risks–including terrorism and political violence, armed conflicts, increasingly powerful anti-establishment political movements, and persistently low commodity prices–continue to grow.

Against this backdrop, it’s critical for businesses to be prepared for the possibility that political violence, unrest, or other large- scale crises will quickly develop in virtually any part of the world – including those countries that were historically seen as safe or stable, Marsh says.

Companies can prepare for these risks by managing their credit risk, building resilient supply chains, protecting their people and by protecting their assets through insurance.

Marsh notes:

Credit and political risk insurance can protect against a variety of risks, including expropriation, political violence, currency inconvertibility, non-payment, and contract frustration.”

Marsh’s Political Risk Map 2016, with data and insight from BMI Research, presents country risk scores for more than 200 countries and territories, helping businesses and investors make smarter decisions about where and how to deploy financial resources–including risk capital–globally in 2016 and beyond.