Category Archives: Catastrophes

Canadian Wildfire Underscores Risk

If ever there were an example of the real danger posed by wildfires, the Fort McMurray wildfire in Alberta, Canada is it.

Firefighters are struggling to control this massive fire that started last Sunday, is estimated to have destroyed more than 1,600 structures in Fort McMurray and has resulted in more than 80,000 evacuations.

As gccapitalideas.com reports here, record high temperatures exceeding 32 C (90 F) and extremely dry air, together with strong winds have enabled the wildfire to grow and spread rapidly.

AIR Worldwide also reports:

“With very few exceptions, catastrophic wildfires occur when three conditions are met simultaneously: dry heat maximizes the volatility of vegetation; extreme winds, which can drive the propagation of a fire through that vegetation, occur; and a fire ignites close to a moderately or heavily populated area.”

All three of these conditions have occurred in the Fort McMurray vicinity, and AIR Worldwide notes: “the wildfire that is now happening there is certainly catastrophic.”

While it is too soon to know the extent of the damage and the size of the Fort McMurray wildfire insurance loss, some early reports are helpful.

AIR Worldwide makes the important point that because of the oil industry, housing in the Fort McMurray area is more expensive than its remoteness would suggest and already it is clear that there has been a massive loss of property.

Losses arising from this fire will likely far exceed those resulting from the Slave Lake wildfire in 2011 that destroyed 522 homes and structures, it suggests. The Slave Lake wildfire cost insurers more than C$700 million at the time, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

One analyst at Bank of Montreal observed that if Fort McMurray has to be completely rebuilt, insured losses could reach as high as C$9 billion ($7 billion), making this the costliest insured disaster in Canadian history.

This catastrophe is also a reminder that wildfires pose a significant risk across the United States.

For more on how to protect property from wildfire damage and to reduce the costs associated with wildfire damage check out information from the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS).

Industry Well-Prepared to Weather Hail Damage

Hail claims are making headlines following multiple springtime hailstorms in Texas, including one in the San Antonio region that is expected to be the largest hailstorm in Texas history.

While the estimated insured losses from the storms—$1.3 billion and climbing from two storms that hit the Dallas-Fort Worth region in March; as yet not estimated (but expected to be worse) insured losses from a third storm in the Dallas-Fort Worth region April 11; plus a further $1.36 billion early estimate of insured losses from the San Antonio storm April 12—may seem high, property insurers are well-prepared to handle such events.

In a new briefing, ratings agency A.M. Best says it expects limited rating actions to result as affected property/casualty insurers are expected to maintain sufficient overall risk-adjusted capitalization relative to their existing financial strength ratings.

Which insurers will be most affected?

A.M. Best explains that for property insurers, in particular in property lines of business, losses are expected to stem from broken windows and roof damage. This will have an impact on underwriting performance and overall earnings.

Companies with a heavy concentration of automobile physical damage will also have significant losses.

However, for property insurers the increased use of actual cash value (ACV) for roof repairs, increased deductibles, and improved risk management strategies will help limit the amount of the ultimate claim payment, A.M. Best explains.

The impact on most auto physical damage insurers is also expected to be mitigated given the generally large economies of scale of major writers in the market, A.M. Best adds.

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So, while the Texas hailstorm damage is poised to exceed the nine-year average of $1.2 billion for the United States, most insurers are well-capitalized and able to handle these severe weather events.

Nevertheless, as A.M. Best says:

“The volatile weather is a harsh reminder of the damages a property and casualty writer can be exposed to and the need for companies to continue to practice prudent and evolving risk management.”

Check out this review of research and testing related to hail damage by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

The Insurance Information Institute also has some handy statistics on hail here.

Industry Partnership Looks to Green, Risk-Informed Future

As we mark Earth Day and as nearly 170 countries gather in New York to sign the Paris climate treaty, a timely new partnership between the insurance industry, the United Nations and the World Bank is set to put vulnerable economies and societies on a path to a green, risk-informed and sustainable future.

The Insurance Development Forum (IDF) aims to incorporate insurance industry risk measurement know-how into existing governmental disaster risk reduction and resilience frameworks and to build out a more sustainable and resilient global insurance market in a world facing growing natural disaster and climate risk.

With more than 90 percent of the economic costs of natural disasters in the developing world uninsured (the so-called protection gap), the IDF mission is to better understand and utilize risk measurement tools to enable governments to use their resources to target resilience and better protect people and their property.

A press release notes:

“The IDF acts as a forum to enable the optimal coordination of insurance related activities; the development of shared priorities; the mobilization of collective resources; the development of strategic and operational relationships within and between governments, industry and international institutions; and, the avoidance of unhelpful and unnecessary fragmentation of efforts and resources. These collective actions can help close the protection gap.”

The IDF will be led by a high level steering group of senior leaders from the insurance industry as well as government institutions supported by an executive secretariat housed at the International Insurance Society (IIS).

IDF chair Stephen Catlin, who is also executive deputy chairman, XL Catlin and deputy chair of the IIS, commented:

“Insurers’ risk management skills help us assess natural disaster risk and can be exported to allow governments at all levels to reduce future losses by designing in resilience into infrastructure projects; and in increasing the use of insurance as a pre-disaster economic resource to allow people to protect their families, property and assets.”

And:

“These skills can increase the utilization of insurance which will reduce the reliance on post-disaster aid and better target resources to the most important and needed humanitarian crises. Research has shown that a 1% increase in insurance penetration can reduce the disaster recovery burden on taxpayers by 22%.”

A keynote address by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon last week emphasized the critical role the insurance industry can play in building natural disaster resilience.

According to Swiss Re research, the global natural catastrophe property protection gap has risen steadily over the last 10 years, and 70% of the economic losses, or USD 1.3 trillion, were uninsured. In the emerging markets, 80 percent to 100 percent of the losses are uninsured.

Check out this Insurance Information Institute backgrounder on climate change and insurance issues here.

An Early Take on the Kumamoto, Japan Earthquakes

Two earthquakes within a few days may seem like a lot for one region of a country to withstand, but in the case of the insurance and reinsurance industry early indications suggest the impact of the Japan quakes will be manageable.

A magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck the Kumamoto prefecture of Japan last Thursday. Just 28 hours later a magnitude 7.3 quake struck the region. So far, Japanese officials have confirmed 46 fatalities and more than 1,000 people injured.

Reports appear to show significant property damage in the region, but it’s too soon to know what insured losses will be.

Analysts say that based on early information from Japan, the quakes are unlikely to challenge the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami in terms of size. The 2011 quake and tsunami caused $35.7 billion in insured damages, according to Swiss Re.

In a research note, Jay Cohen, analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said the quakes should not change the market much:

“Based on the early information from Japan, we would not expect these quakes to have a material impact on reinsurance pricing.”

And:

“In addition, we do not believe that such events will cause insurers or modeling companies to reassess their catastrophe models.”

One variable is potential business interruption and even contingent business interruption losses.

The second quake caused production to be halted at various factories of leading manufacturers such as Toyota, Sony, Honda and semiconductor manufacturer Renesas Electronics.

Cat modeling firm AIR Worldwide notes that Kumamoto prefecture, in the heart of Kyushu Island, is home to roughly 25 percent of Japan’s semiconductor production. There are also more than 100 semiconductor-related enterprises located in the prefecture. In fact, Kyushu is informally known as “Silicon Island.” The area also has automobile, steel and ship manufacturers, AIR Worldwide says.

The extent of any business interruption losses and further impact on supply chains would depend on how long the factories are closed, analysts note.

Earthquake insurance for commercial risks in Japan is purchased from the private reinsurance/insurance markets. Artemis blog reports that after the second more damaging quake, it looks more likely that Japanese insurers may seek reinsurance support for losses. Some catastrophe bond exposure is also possible, though most attach at a fairly high layer.

The standard dwelling policy in Japan does not cover earthquake but policyholders can choose to add the coverage. Earthquake insurance for dwelling risks is backed by the government via the Japan Earthquake Reinsurance Co (JER). The JER protects all residences that purchase earthquake insurance. More information on earthquake insurance in Japan is available here.

These earlier posts (here, here, and here) by Insurance Information Institute chief actuary James Lynch on the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami are useful.

Read up on the importance of understanding earthquake insurance options in the U.S. here.

U.S. Dominates March Catastrophe Claims

A reminder of the impact of severe thunderstorms is evident in March catastrophe estimates, with seven separate events across the country resulting in several billion dollars of insured losses.

Aon Benfield’s March Global Catastrophe Recap noted that overall economic losses sustained to property, infrastructure and agriculture across the U.S. from the convective storm and flood damage were anticipated to approach $3.5 billion.

Insured losses incurred by public and private insurance entities were tentatively estimated at $2.0 billion. (Presumably, that number includes estimated payouts by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.)

More than 1,000 individual reports of tornadoes, damaging straight-line winds and hail were recorded by the Storm Prediction Centre, while torrential rains also led to significant riverine and flash flooding in the Lower Mississippi River Valley.

Among the hardest-hit states was Texas, Aon Benfield said, where events during consecutive weeks of greater than golf ball-sized hail in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth metro region led to more than 125,000 home and auto claim filings.

The Insurance Council of Texas has put preliminary estimated insured losses in the state at more than $1.1 billion alone.

Here’s the visual on March catastrophe losses in the U.S.:

UnitedStatesMarchCatastropheLosses

Artemis blog mentions that Impact Forecasting estimates for insured or reinsured losses in the U.S. in the first-quarter of 2016 from severe and winter weather now total $4.48 billion.

“Globally the figure is $5.82 billion, again demonstrating the importance of the U.S. property catastrophe insurance and reinsurance market.”

In its must-read facts and statistics on hail, the Insurance Information Institute notes that events involving wind, hail or flood accounted for $21.4 billion in insured catastrophe losses in 2014 dollars from 1994 to 2014 (not including payouts from the National Flood Insurance Program), according to Verisk’s Property Claim Services.

Information about how to reduce hail damage to businesses and homes is available from the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety website here and here.

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.”

Warren Buffett On Climate Change Risk

Climate change made a few headlines over the weekend, both in best actor Leo DiCaprio’s Oscars acceptance speech and in Warren Buffett’s annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders.

Buffett, facing calls from a proxy voter to file a report on the risks that climate change might present to Berkshire Hathaway’s insurance business, said it seems highly likely that climate change poses a major problem for the planet, but made clear that climate change is not a concern for its insurance operation:

As a citizen, you may understandably find climate change keeping you up nights. As a homeowner in a low-lying area, you may wish to consider moving. But when you are thinking only as a shareholder of a major insurer, climate change should not be on your list of worries.”

Buffett said it was understandable that the sponsor of the proxy proposal believes Berkshire is especially threatened by climate change because “we are a huge insurer, covering all sorts of risks”.

Such worries might be valid, he said, if Berkshire wrote 10 or 20-year policies at fixed prices.

But because insurance policies are customarily written for one year and repriced annually to reflect changing exposures, Buffett maintains that climate change is an opportunity for growth. In his words:

Increased possibilities of loss translate promptly into increased premiums.”

According to Buffett, up to now, climate change has not produced more frequent or more costly hurricanes or other weather-related events. As a result, U.S. super-cat rates have fallen steadily in recent years, which is why Berkshire has backed away from that business.

If super-cats become costlier and more frequent, the likely — though far from certain — effect on Berkshire’s insurance business would be to make it larger and more profitable.”

For a broader perspective on how insurers are dealing with climate change risk, check out the Insurance Information Institute’s issues update paper: Climate Change and Insurance Issues.

Winter Weather Tops Billion Dollar Insured Cat Losses in 2015

Five of the seven individual billion-dollar insured loss natural disaster events in 2015 were recorded in the United States, according to Aon Benfield’s Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report.

The other two billion dollar events were recorded in Europe.

All of the events were weather-related and below the average of eight. The five events in the U.S. were equal to the 2000-2014 average.

Italy’s May 2012 earthquake was the last non-weather billion-dollar insured loss event.

The all-time record of 17 billion-dollar weather events was set in 2011.

The costliest individual insured loss event of the year was a prolonged stretch of heavy snow, freezing rain, ice, and frigid cold that impacted much of the eastern United States in February 2015. That event prompted an estimated $2.1 billion insured loss.

Other billion-dollar insured loss events in the U.S. included a severe thunderstorm outbreak in the U.S. in May and severe thunderstorms and flooding in December. Each of these events cost an estimated $1.4 billion in insured losses.

Another thunderstorm event in the U.S. in April cost $1.2 billion, while the yearlong drought in the West was another $1 billion insured loss event.

The two non-U.S. billion dollar insured loss events of 2015 consisted of the catastrophic December flooding in the UK that cost an estimated $1.3 billion, and European windstorms Mike and Niklas in March and April which resulted in an estimated insured loss of $1 billion.

CostliestInsuredCatLosses2015

Aon Benfield noted that on a global scale disasters caused insured losses of $35 billion in 2015, below the 15-year mean of $51 billion and 14 percent lower than the median ($40 billion).

This was the fourth consecutive year with declining catastrophe losses since the record-setting year in 2011.

The U.S. accounted for 60 percent of global insured disaster losses in 2015, reflecting the high rate of insurance penetration in the country, according to the report.

I.I.I. facts and statistics on U.S. catastrophes are available here.

Man-made Disaster Losses Increase in 2015

Natural catastrophes made up the lion’s share of global insured disaster losses in 2015, but a man-made loss was the year’s costliest.

Preliminary estimates from Swiss Re sigma put insured losses from disaster events at $32 billion in 2015, of which $23 billion were triggered by natural catastrophes and $9 billion by man-made disasters.

The explosions at the Port of Tianjin, China in August are expected to lead to claims of at least $2 billion, making it the costliest event of the year and the biggest man-made insured loss in Asia ever, sigma said.

Some 173 people were killed and many more injured in the Tianjin explosions, which damaged and destroyed vehicles, shipping containers, production facilities and surrounding property.

The insured loss estimate is subject to a high degree of uncertainty due to the many different lines of business and coverage impacted, including potentially contingent business interruption,  sigma noted.

An  earlier  report by Guy Carpenter has suggested potential losses of up to $3.3 billion resulting from the Tianjin explosions.

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Insured losses from man-made disasters were up 30 percent in 2015 at $9 billion, from $7 billion in 2014, according to sigma.

However, at $23 billion natural catastrophe insured losses were below the annual average of $55 billion for the previous 10 years.

Losses were caused by various severe natural catastrophes across different perils in 2015, including windstorms, hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding and wildfires.

A February winter storm in the United States was the costliest natural disaster of the year, resulting in insured losses of more than $2 billion.

Low activity during the North Atlantic hurricane season kept the total global insured loss low, sigma noted.

Sadly, approximately 26,000 people lost their lives in disasters this year, double the amount in 2014.

Large disasters in other parts of the world contributed to the high level of fatalities.

The magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal and neighboring countries in April triggered a humanitarian catastrophe, killing around 9,000 people.

More than 5,000 people also died in waves of extreme temperatures during the summer season in India, Pakistan, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

And more lives were lost due to capsizing of many boats carrying migrants from conflict zones in northern Africa to Europe, often in unseaworthy vessels, sigma noted.

More facts and statistics on man-made  disasters available from the I.I.I. here.