Climate Compromise?

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali enters its final day, a scan of the news headlines suggests the U.S. and Europe may be able to reach compromise on targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) this week released a report saying that the decade from 1998-2007 was the warmest on record. Preliminary data compiled by WMO in the report also  indicates that 2007 will be the seventh warmest year on record. Whatever the outcome in Bali, the latest reports continue to point out that climate change  represents a key risk for countries, governments, businesses and individuals moving forward.  

Tort Costs Update

Tillinghast has just released its 2007 update on U.S. Tort Cost Trends. The good news is that tort costs declined by 5.5 percent to $247 billion in 2006. That approximates $825 per person – $57 less per person than in 2005. The $13.4 billion decrease in costs over 2005 marks the first downward trend since 1997. A significant drop in commercial tort costs, due in part to the waning impact of asbestos costs was a contributing factor. But the near-term outlook is not so rosy, according to Tillinghast. It warns that several factors, including the potential fallout from the current subprime loan crisis, are expected to reverse the figures in 2007. As it notes: when people lose money, litigation tends to follow. Looking ahead Tillinghast expects growth in U.S. tort costs of around 2.5 percent in 2007, with slightly higher growth of 4.5 percent in the following two years. As well as subprime mortgages, global warming and backdating of options are just some of the issues that it expects will impact future trends. Check out I.I.I.’s update on the liability system.  

Health and Wellness

We’ve posted before about the growing investment companies are making in the health and productivity of their workforce. The shifting focus on wellness and prevention rather than just health coverage is noted in MetLife’s Fifth Annual Employee Benefits Trend Study. According to its findings, more than one-fourth (28 percent) of all employers and nearly half (49 percent) of companies with 500 or more employees offer some type of a wellness program as a workplace benefit. The study also reveals that 17 percent of employers offer health insurance credits for employees following wellness guidelines such as exercise, nutrition, check-ups, and disease screenings. Nearly one-third of employers with 500 or more employees (31 percent) are offering these wellness credits – up from 25 percent a year before. But there is a flip side. While employers increasingly are offering employees financial incentives to encourage them to monitor their health, there can be penalties if they don’t. According to MetLife, one-in-10 employers (9 percent) and one-in-five (19 percent) of employers with 500 or more employees say they impose financial penalties on employees for not following wellness guidelines. It’s a two-way street.  

E&O Subprime Risk by State

Reinsurance broker Guy Carpenter has released a  briefing on the threat of errors & omissions (E&O) litigation on U.S. real estate professionals. To more accurately gauge the likelihood of litigation Guy Carp has developed its own subprime E&O litigation index. The index measures a combination of factors influencing the E&O litigation climate including foreclosure rate, subprime mortgage delinquency rate, litigation attorneys per mortgage professional, truth in lending legislation and banking litigation ranking. According to the index, Illinois, Michigan and Massachusetts claim the highest overall E&O litigation risk levels, with Mississippi, Indiana and Ohio close behind. The study throws up an interesting fact: there is little to no correlation between the highest risk states for subprime-related E&O litigation and those states such as Arizona and Nevada with the greatest number of subprime mortgage delinquencies and/or foreclosures. Guy Carp also notes that the riskiest states are those with average rankings in most categories and an extremely high result in a single category.

Subprime Litigation Latest

In our September 21 posting we cited future predictions of an uptick in securities class actions as a result of the subprime market turmoil. Willis has just released another alert from the company’s financial institutions practice in which it confirms this trend. It notes that claims in the U.S. against directors and officers of financial institutions have started coming as a result of nearly 40 class actions and there will undoubtedly be more. At first these suits were predominantly restricted to U.S. subprime lenders and certain real estate investment trusts (REITs). However, Willis says it has become apparent that class actions are now touching financial institutions not directly related to subprime loan default exposures. Such cases allege that directors failed to disclose their companies’ exposures to losses in the subprime market and misled shareholders. A trend to monitor. Further commentary on securities class actions can be found at The D&O Diary, a blog focused on D&O liability issues.  

Coastal Flooding Exposure

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s posting about modeling and as the UN Climate Change Conference continues in Bali, the release of a global study on coastal flooding by the OECD, RMS and the University of Southampton is timely. The study makes a first estimate of the exposure of the world’s largest port cities to coastal flooding due to storm surge and damage due to high winds. It also investigates how climate change is likely to impact each port city’s exposure to coastal flooding by the 2070s, alongside subsidence and population growth and urbanization. The upshot is that the total population  reliant on flood defenses  could more than triple from 40 million today to around 150 million people by 2070. In the same period, total assets exposed will grow even more dramatically, more than 10 times current levels reaching $35,000 billion. The findings are ominous for a number of U.S. cities, with Miami topping the list in terms of assets exposed to coastal flooding ($416.3 billion today and increasing to $3,513 billion by the 2070s). New York-Newark places third with exposed assets of $320.2 billion, rising to $2,147 billion by the 2070s. New Orleans ranks 12th, with $233.7 billion in exposed assets, rising to $1,013 billion by the 2070s, while Virginia Beach ranks 19th, with $84.6 billion in current exposed assets, increasing to $581.7 billion by the 2070s. How to put in place effective climate change policies and disaster management strategies are just some of the challenges the study highlights. Check out I.I.I. facts & stats on flood insurance.

Tsunami Factor

Look back at a list of major earthquakes through the years and you’ll see a number of related tsunami events. Perhaps the most memorable in recent history was the December 26, 2004, magnitude 9.0 earthquake in the Indian Ocean, that triggered a series of tsunami (tidal waves) and left some 220,000 people dead. In an I.I.I.  chart of the 10 deadliest world catastrophes between 1970 and 2006, that event ranks third. So yesterday’s announcement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that it has completed high-resolution digital elevation models to prepare three east coast communities for tsunami and storm-driven flood threats is a welcome step. The latest models for Long Island, Atlantic City and Daytona Beach provide the framework to accurately forecast the magnitude and extent of coastal flooding during a tsunami or storm surge event. They add to models already in place for some 20 U.S. coastal communities and NOAA expects to build 50 more models in the coming years. Check out further I.I.I. info on flood insurance.  

UN Climate Change Talks and Initiative

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali got underway today. The two-week long conference brings together representatives from more than 180 countries and observers from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations as well as the media. A key goal of the conference is to work towards a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. Ahead of the Bali meeting, insurers AIG, Allianz, AXA, and Swiss Re were among 150 companies to have signed the Bali Communique on Climate Change, a call to world leaders for a comprehensive, legally binding United Nations framework to tackle climate change. This initiative has been led by the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change and the University of Cambridge.  

Charitable Gala Dinner

The first annual dinner of the New York division of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation will take place at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City next Wednesday December 5. The event will feature special guest New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and will honor Brian Dupperault, former chairman and CEO of ACE Ltd. Martin Sullivan, president and CEO of AIG will chair the dinner. The event is expected to raise a total of $1.5 million for three tri-state area charities. Some of you will already be aware that the insurance industry ranks among the top 15 contributors when it comes to charitable donations. According to a survey by the Conference Board, charitable contributions to U.S. and international causes by 211 of the largest U.S. companies and U.S. corporate foundations amounted to $9.87 billion in 2005. The insurance industry’s donations to U.S. beneficiaries totaled $181.3 million, placing it eleventh out of 19 industry groups.

Bermuda Influence

We have commented before on the key role insurance plays in the U.S. economy. Now, a study from the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers (ABIR) highlights the critical role Bermuda insurers and reinsurers play in the U.S. economy. Key facts include that Bermuda firms: employ 9,600 Americans directly in the U.S. and indirectly generate an additional 95,045 jobs; paid $17 billion in property claims in 2005 for hurricane damage, representing 25 percent of total property damages covered; protect (via reinsurance) four out of 10 U.S. homes and businesses with property coverage; provide 40 percent of hurricane and earthquake reinsurance coverage in the U.S.; account for 26 percent of the total U.S. reinsurance market; generate as much as $96 billion of the gross output for the U.S. insurance market; and write 57 percent of the total U.S. crop insurance and reinsurance market. For further I.I.I. info on the insurance industry’s contribution to state, local and national economies, check out the updated edition of our online publication “A Firm Foundation†.  

Latest research and analysis