Category Archives: Insurers and the Economy

2021 P/C Underwriting Profitability May Be Hampered By CAT Losses, Social Inflation,
Triple-I/Milliman Predict

By Loretta Worters, Vice President, Media Relations, Triple-I

Property/casualty insurers are projected to have less-than-stellar underwriting profits in 2021, according to a forecast released today by the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) and risk-management firm Milliman.

Sean Kevelighan, Triple-I

The forecast – presented in a members-only webinar, “Triple-I /Milliman Underwriting Projections: A Forward View,” moderated by Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan – projects a 2021 combined ratio of 99.6. Combined ratio is the percentage of each premium dollar an insurer spends on claims and expenses.

The industry ended 2020 profitably, with a combined ratio of 98.7.  Combined ratios for 2022 and 2023 are projected to be 98.9 and 99.3, respectively. 

Losses from atypical weather events in the first quarter – particularly, the Texas freeze – got the year off to a rough start, explained Dave Moore of Moore Actuarial Consulting.

Natural catastrophe losses at a decade high

Dave Moore, Moore Actuarial

“Insured losses from natural disasters worldwide hit a 10-year high of $42 billion in the first half of 2021, with the biggest loss related to extreme cold in the United States in February,” Moore said, citing Aon statistics. “Overall, catastrophe loss estimates are in the $15 billion to $20 billion range for the Texas freeze event, and the rest of the year doesn’t look promising for CAT losses overall. Extreme weather this spring brought multi-billion-dollar thunderstorm and hail losses, and the extreme drought in the West has helped fuel another severe wildfire season.”

Jason B. Kurtz, FCAS, MAAA, a principal and consulting actuary at Milliman – an independent risk-management, benefits, and technology firm – said the current hard insurance market will persist, particularly in lines that have been hit hard by social inflation. A hard market is defined as a period of increasing premiums and decreasing insurance capacity.

Jason B. Kurtz, Milliman

Premium growth for the industry is projected to hit 7 percent in 2021. Growth is expected to slow in 2022 and 2023 but will remain above 5 percent both years.

“Lines like commercial auto, commercial multiperil, and general liability will still struggle to get their combined ratios under 100,” he said. “With ransomware attacks on the rise and tightening capacity, cyber bears watching, and homeowners insurers will have another tough year in 2021, but we predict improvement for 2022 and 2023.”

Michel Léonard, PhD, CBE, vice president, senior economist, and head of Triple-I’s Economics and Analytics Department, took a preliminary look at property/casualty industry results for 2021 and trends for the rest of the year. He noted that insurance outperformed the overall economy in 2019 and 2020 but was not likely to do as well in 2021.

Michel Léonard, Triple-I

“Right now, economists seem to be shifting growth from 2022 to 2021. That’s not good for insurance because of our industry’s business cycles. Shifting this growth means we are not expected to outperform the wider economy in 2021– but we are in 2022.  What’s best for our industry is growth increasing, not decreasing, from 2021 to 2022.”

Roy Wright, IBHS

Regarding wildfire season, Roy Wright, president and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), noted that as the climate changes and the population expands into the wildland urban interface, wildfires are intersecting suburban life. Wildfire losses continue to mount year after year and make clear the need for communities to adapt, he said.

Runaway litigation

Commercial auto insurance has been hit harder by litigation trends than any other line of business, according to David Corum, vice president at the Insurance Research Council (IRC).

David Corum, IRC

“We estimate broadly that social inflation increased commercial auto liability claims by more than $8 billion between 2010 and 2019,” Corum said. “We are also seeing evidence that social inflation is becoming a factor in personal auto claims.” He noted that a soon-to-be-released paper by the Triple-I, Moore Actuarial Consulting, and the Casualty Actuarial Society will address this topic more broadly.

Pat Sullivan, senior editor and conference co-chair at Risk Information Inc., explained that commercial auto insurers spent the last few years trying to price themselves into profitability with little success.

Pat Sullivan, Risk Information

Sullivan noted that COVID-19 wasn’t great for growth:  “Commercial auto direct written premiums rose about one percent in 2020, compared to 12 percent in 2019, 13 percent in 2018, and 9 percent in 2017. Commercial auto’s underlying claims issues haven’t gone away.”

COVID-19 and business interruption

The past 15 months have been extraordinary from a legal perspective on COVID-19 business interruption claims, according to Michael Menapace, partner, Wiggin and Dana LLP and Triple-I Non-Resident Scholar.

Michael Menapace, Wiggin and Dana

“To date, 80 percent of the judicial decisions have dismissed policyholders’ claims without regard to whether the presence of SARS-CoV-2 or the government shutdown orders were the cause of their losses, Menapace said. That dismissal rate goes up to 95 percent when the policies also include a virus exclusion.”

“There have been some outlier business interruption decisions in favor of policyholders and some less favorable jurisdictions for insurers that we are watching,” he said.  “Insurers must also remain vigilant by pushing back against proposals by state legislatures or executive agencies that would change the terms of insurance contracts to provide coverage where none was intended and for which no premium was paid.”

Looking forward, Menapace said the trend of dismissals in the trial courts should continue.

“There has been only one appellate court decision concerning business interruption coverage,” he said. “But, over the next 12-18 months, the focus will start shifting to state and federal appellate courts, which will have the final say on many of these issues.”

Atlantic hurricane season

Dr Phil Klotzbach, research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University and Triple-I Non-Resident Scholar, gave his updated projections for the 2021 hurricane season.

Dr. Phil Klotzbach, Colorado State University

Klotzbach noted that 2021 is expected to have an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, with 18 named storms, eight of which will become hurricanes. Of those eight, four will likely become major hurricanes (category 3, 4, or 5 with winds of a 111 mph or greater).  That compares with the long-term average of about 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

Triple-I: Rating-Factor Variety Drives Accuracy of Auto Insurance Pricing

Lower-risk drivers should pay less for auto insurance, and premiums have closely tracked broader U.S. economic trends for decades, Triple-I told the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Insurance Office (FIO) this week.

In a letter responding to a federal Request for Information, Triple-I said U.S. auto insurers accurately price their policies by using a wide variety of rating factors.  All these factors must conform to the laws and regulations of the state in which the auto insurance policies are sold.

“There is no credible evidence that insurers charge more than they should, either across the broad market or in specific subsegments, such as neighborhood, race, income, education or occupation,” the Triple-I stated. The letter also said the rating factors U.S. auto insurers use to price their policies not only serve their purpose but are constantly retested to ensure their accuracy and reliability.

“If rating factors do their job well, they make insurance relatively inexpensive for some people and quite expensive for others,” the letter said. “In both cases, the assessment is correct. Drivers who present less risk pay less for coverage.”

The response to FIO’s information request highlighted how the appropriate price for an insurance policy varies greatly from customer to customer and from state to state.  Insurance is regulated by state governments.

“Insurance companies and their actuaries have focused on finding factors that make sure every customer pays the appropriate rate,” the Triple-I said. Rates are based on historical loss experience for similar risks. Premiums constitute the price customers pay for insurance coverage. 

Critics of U.S. auto insurer pricing practices have expressed concerns that certain rating factors, such as credit-based insurance scores and the geographic location of the customer’s residence, discriminate against lower-income drivers and minority groups. Triple-I explained that eliminating any rating factor – for whatever reason – forces those with less risk to overpay for auto insurance and allows those with greater risk to pay less than they should for auto insurance.

Interventions can backfire

“Eliminating factors does not affect the truth that they reveal, and if factors reveal that costs need to be high for a customer, banning them does nothing to change the underlying costs that are the reason the rate is high,” the Triple-I stated.

Regulators occasionally intervene in the rating process to make insurance less expensive for certain groups, citing the need to make insurance “affordable.”

“These interventions, however well-intentioned, can backfire in a spectacular way,” the Triple-I letter says, “raising the overall costs and severely reducing availability, as well as impeding innovations that could address the issue.”

Real problems need real solutions

Real solutions exist to make insurance more affordable, Triple-I says: “These solutions come not from tinkering with how insurers set prices but by addressing the costs that insurance covers.”

Improving the transportation environment and addressing societal issues that often force minorities and low- and moderate-income individuals to live and drive in circumstances where auto insurance costs the most are among the solutions suggested.

Extensive Triple-I research shows that rising claims costs have been the primary factor generating increased auto insurance rates.

Learn More From the Triple-I Blog

Here’s What’s Happening to Your Auto Insurance Costs

Auto Insurance Premiums Face Downward Pressure Due to COVID-19

Nevada Class Actions Against Auto Insurers Risk Hurting Policyholders

Policyholder Dividends Soar as Auto Insurers Respond to Pandemic

Auto Insurance Rates Decline Across U.S.

Auto Damage Claims Growing Twice as Fast as Inflation: IRC Study

As Nat Cat Losses Mount,
A Resilience Mindset Matters More Than Ever

Insurance is essential for individuals, businesses, and communities to recover quickly from natural  catastrophes – but perils have evolved to a point at which risk transfer, though necessary, isn’t enough to ensure resilience.

Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan said during a that better insured communities recover more quickly but “the long-term resilience of both the communities impacted by natural catastrophes and of the industry itself depend on preparedness and improved risk mitigation.”  He was one of three panelists participating in the webinar.

“Something’s Got to Give”

Insured U.S. natural catastrophe losses totaled $67 billion in 2020 after an Atlantic hurricane season which included 30 named storms, record-setting wildfires in California, Colorado, and the Pacific Northwest, and a severe derecho in Iowa. This year’s hurricane season looks to be more severe; the Bootleg wildfire in Oregon – so large and intense it has begun to create its own weather and is affecting air quality as far east as New York City – isn’t  expected to be fully contained until late November; and these disasters are taking place on the heels of devastating winter storms in the first quarter.

As Kevelighan put it in his panel remarks, pointing to a 700 percent increase in insurer loss costs since the 1980s, “Something’s got to give.”

“As the country’s financial first responders,” he said, “insurers are not just responsible for providing relief to the communities affected by natural disasters, but also planning for potential catastrophes to come.”  

One of the ways insurers do this, he said, is by building the industry’s cumulative policyholders’ surplus—the amount of money remaining after insurers’ collective liabilities are subtracted from their assets. At year-end 2020, the U.S. policyholders’ surplus stood at a record-high $914.3 billion.

Mitigate and educate

The role of the insurance industry has grown beyond merely taking on risks to educating the public, regulators, and corporate decision makers on the changing nature of risk and driving a resilience mindset characterized by a focus on pre-emptive mitigation and rapid recovery. Triple-I and a host of other insurance industry organizations have played a key role in promoting public-private partnerships and using advanced data and analytics to understand and address hazards in advance.

For example, Triple-I’s online Resilience Accelerator provides access to data and risk maps that empowers the public to assess and prepare for risks specific to their own communities.

This webinar, co-presented by The Institutes’ Griffith Foundation and the Insurance Regulator Education Foundation, included panelists Hanna Grant, Head of the Secretariat, Access to Insurance Initiative; and Dr. Abhishek Varma, Associate Professor, Finance, Insurance and Law, Illinois State University. It was moderated by James Jones, Executive Director, Katie School of Insurance and Financial Services, Illinois State University.

Webinar highlights:

Social Inflation:
Eating the Elephant
In the Room

“Social inflation” refers to rising litigation costs and their impact on insurers’ claim payouts, loss ratios and, ultimately, how much policyholders pay for coverage. It’s an important issue to understand because – while the tactics associated with it typically affect businesses perceived as having “deep pockets” – social inflation has implications for individuals and for businesses of all sizes.

The insurance lines most affected are commercial auto, professional liability, product liability, and directors and officers liability. There also is evidence that private-passenger car insurance is beginning to be affected. As increased litigation costs drive up premiums, those increases tend to be passed along to consumers and can stifle investment in innovation that could create jobs and otherwise benefit the economy.

For more on this, see: Social Inflation: Evidence and Impact on Property-Casualty Insurance by the Insurance Research Council (IRC).]

Much of what is discussed and published on the topic has been more anecdotal than data based. Reliably quantifying social inflation for rating and reserving purposes is hard because it’s just one of many factors pressuring pricing. We’ve found that the most meaningful way to think about social inflation and its components is to compare their impact on claims losses over time with growth in inflation measures like the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Litigation Funding

It’s been said that the best way to eat an elephant is “one bite at a time.” Because of the diversity and complexity of social inflation’s causes and effects, we’re launching a series of blog posts dedicated to each one in turn. The first set of posts will look closely at litigation funding: the practice of third parties financing lawsuits in exchange for a share of any funds the plaintiffs might receive.

Litigation funding was once widely prohibited, but as bans have been eroded in recent decades, the practice has grown, spread, and become a contributor to social inflation.

[See: Litigation Funding Rises as Common-Law Bans Are Eroded by Courts on the Triple-I Blog]                                                                                                  

Litigation funding seemed a good place to begin this series because it’s a distinct legal strategy with a clear history that doesn’t involve a lot of the sociological subtleties inherent in other aspects of social inflation. We’ll look the emergence of the practice, how it came to the United States from abroad, and track its evolution with that of social inflation. We’ll also discuss the current state of litigation finance, along with ethical concerns that have been raised around it within the legal community.

This series will be led by IRC Vice President David Corum with support from our partners at The Institutes and input from our members, as well as experts beyond the insurance industry. As befits any discussion of a complex topic, we look forward to your reactions and insights.

More from the Triple-I Blog

What is social inflation? What can insurers do about it? (January 25, 2021)

Litigation funding rises as common-law bans are eroded by courts (December 29, 2020)

Lawyers’ group approves best practices to guide litigation funding (August 19, 2020)

Social inflation and COVID-19 (July 6, 2020)

IRC study: Social inflation is real, and it hurts consumers, businesses (June 2, 2020)

Florida dropped from 2020 “Judicial Hellholes” list (January 14, 2020)

Florida’s AOB crisis: A social-inflation microcosm (November 8, 2019)

Auto insurance rates impacted by labor crunch, supply chain disruptions

In a recent interview with CNBC, Dr. Michel Léonard, Triple-I vice president and senior economist, explained how the return to pre-pandemic driving levels is resulting in higher auto accident rates.

More accidents mean a larger volume of more expensive claims for insurers to pay because of higher repair costs, delays in repair time due to chip shortages, supply chain disruptions and a labor crunch.

The consumer price index showed that the auto insurance index was up 16.9 percent in May from the previous year, following a 6.4 percent rise in April from the previous year.

Elyse Greenspan, a managing director at Wells Fargo, said the year-over-year increase resulted from the premium base in May 2020, reflecting pandemic-related refunds. Triple-I analysis shows that due to the sharp declines in the number of miles driven, U.S. auto insurers returned $14 billion to their customers last year.

Greenspan describes the current auto insurance market as still soft even after recent rate increases. Not all insurers are raising rates, she added. “It’s still a good environment for consumers who are purchasing auto insurance.”

Swiss Re: “Zombies”
Could Kill Recovery

Global pandemic.

Supply-chain disruptions.

Increasingly costly cyber-attacks.

Extreme weather and other climate-related hazards.

And now, zombies.

Swiss Re’s chief economist this week said failures of hundreds of “zombie companies” over the next few years are among the concerns prompting insurers to reduce risk and charge higher premiums – a trend that is likely to continue as corporate failures increase.

Zombies – companies that lack the cash flow to cover the cost of their debt – are “a ticking time bomb” whose effects will be felt as governments and central banks withdraw measures that have helped keep these companies alive during the pandemic, Jerome Haegeli told Reuters.

The sobering prediction comes as stock prices hit records and the U.S. economy appears headed for 6.5 percent growth this year. Haegeli said these strengths are illusory because they’re based on temporary fiscal and monetary support.

Insurers are being cautious: reining in underwriting risk, being more prudent about investment allocations, and even taking precautions on insuring operations and supply-chain risk.

“They are not getting fooled by the short-term picture,” Haegeli said. “If you look at the market today, everything looks great. However, it’s illusionary to think that this environment can last” as “life support” is withdrawn in coming months. And that, he said, will bring an increase in long-overdue bankruptcies.

It’s tempting to presume that, as the pandemic-driven aspects of the economic crisis are brought under control, recovery will proceed apace. After all, the economy was doing fine before the pandemic hit, right?

But in September the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) pointed to a “pre-pandemic increase in the number of persistently unprofitable firms, so-called ‘zombies’, which are particularly vulnerable to economic downturns.”

Before the pandemic, the BIS said, about 20 percent of listed firms in the United States and United Kingdom were zombies and 30 percent in Australia and Canada. By comparison, zombies constituted about 15 percent of listed companies in 14 advanced economies in 2017 and 4 percent before the 2008 financial crisis.

Absent any reason to believe these companies’ situations substantially improved during the pandemic or that the contagion didn’t spawn more zombies, the expectation of more corporate collapses seems reasonable.

Add to this rising losses due to hurricanes, severe convective storms, and wildfires; the threat of sea level rise; and the growing reality business and government disruption from cybercrime, and the likelihood of increasing premiums and reduced coverage limits seems strong.

Triple-I CEO: Insurance Leading on Climate Risk

Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan recently briefed regulators on the steps U.S. insurers are taking to reduce climate-related risks as weather-related catastrophes increase in frequency and severity.

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues are in the insurance industry’s DNA, Sean said in a panel discussion hosted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ (NAIC) Climate and Resiliency Task Force.  “While ESG priorities may seem new to many industries, insurers have long been involved in understanding and addressing these and other risk factors as a fundamental part of doing business.” 

Speaking on the first day of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, Sean pointed out investment decisions made by leading insurers that he said will likely lead to carbon emission reductions.

“Insured losses caused by natural disasters have grown by nearly 700 percent since the 1980s, and four of the five costliest natural disasters in U.S. history have occurred over the past decade,” he said.

To illustrate the point, he showed an inflation-adjusted chart showing an annual averageof$5 billion in natural disaster-caused insured losses incurred in the 1980s. That figure jumped to an annual average of $35 billion in the 2010s, the same Triple-I analysis found. 

U.S. insurers paid out $67 billion in 2020 due to natural disasters. The insured losses emerged in part as the result of 13 hurricanes, five of the six largest wildfires in California’s history, and a derecho that caused significant damage in Iowa

Given the millions of Americans who live in harm’s way, the Triple-I launched its Resilience Accelerator initiative to help people and communities better manage risk and become more resilient, Sean said. The goal of the Triple-I’s Resilience Accelerator is to demonstrate the power of insurance as a force for resilience by telling the story of how insurance coverage helps governments, businesses and individuals recover faster and more completely after natural disasters.

“The insurance industry’s focus on resilience is starting to pay dividends as more Americans recognize the very real risks their residences face from floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters,” Sean continued.

A Triple-I Consumer Poll released in September 2020 found 42 percent of homeowners had made improvements to protect their homes from floods and 39 percent had done the same to protect their homes from hurricanes.

Download Sean’s slides

Triple-I/Milliman: Property/Casualty Underwriting Profits to Continue in 2021

By Loretta Worters, Vice President, Media Relations, Triple-I

Property/casualty insurers are projected to continue to post slight underwriting profits in 2021, according to a forecast released today by the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) and Milliman.

The forecast projects a 2021 combined ratio of 99, virtually the same as last year. The forecast was revealed during an exclusive, members-only virtual webinar, “Triple-I /Milliman Underwriting Projections: A Look Ahead,” moderated by Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan. Early projections for 2022 and 2023 look similar. The combined ratio is the percentage of each premium dollar an insurer spends on claims and expenses.

Premiums are expected to surge 7.1 percent this year, according to the forecast, up from 2.5 percent in 2020, as the combination of an economic recovery and a hard market increase both exposures and rates. A hard market, also known as a seller’s market, occurs when insurance is expensive and in short supply. Premium growth is projected to slow in 2022 and 2023 but remain above 5 percent in both years.

2021 got off to a bumpy start for natural catastrophes. “The industry took a big hit with the Texas freeze in Q1, with overall cat loss estimates in the $15 billion range,” said James Lynch, FCAS, MAAA, senior vice president and chief actuary at the Triple-I. “Most of that was the Texas storm. Q1 losses that big are atypical.” He added that the drought in the West is a continued concern as wildfire season approaches.

Jason B. Kurtz, FCAS, MAAA, a principal and consulting actuary at Milliman, an independent risk management, benefits, and technology firm, said that underwriting results would gradually improve starting next year. And as more people are vaccinated and back to work, the economy should keep humming. “Last year’s recession was unusual in that there really wasn’t anything wrong with the economy until COVID hit. So now, with COVID (hopefully) on the run, the American Rescue Plan well underway, and the possibility of another stimulus at some point later this year, growth should be strong.”

 “We anticipate a jump in premium growth this year, thanks to the economic recovery and a hard market,” said Kurtz.

Dr Phil Klotzbach, research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University and a Triple-I non-resident scholar, has already given his initial forecast for the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. He noted at the time that 2021 is expected to have above-normal activity, with 17 named storms, eight of which will become hurricanes – and of those eight, four are predicted to become major hurricanes (Category 3, 4, or 5, with winds of at least 111 miles per hour). That compares with the long-term average of 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

“There are a couple of reasons why we’re forecasting above-normal Atlantic hurricane activity,” said Dr. Klotzbach. “We do not anticipate El Niño conditions this summer and fall,” he said, explaining that El Niño occurs when there is warmer than normal waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific.

“When those El Niño conditions occur, it tends to increase upper-level winds, so winds at 20,000-30,000 feet in the atmosphere tear apart hurricanes in the Caribbean and into the tropical Atlantic. We’ll have a lot more to say when we put out our 2021 hurricane projections on June 3,” Klotzbach stated.

Looking at the Directors & Officers (D&O) market, Dave Moore, FCAS, MAAA, of Moore Actuarial Consulting, LLC, said that security class actions continue to exert upward pressure on both the number and size of claims in the public company D&O market and are expected to continue. “Prior to 2017, there were less than 200 security class actions filed per year, on average. In the last four years, that annual average has doubled to around 400 security class actions. Last year frequency fell, which might have been due to the pandemic. Even so, 2020 activity is still well above average.”

Donna Glenn, FCAS, MAAA, chief actuary, National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI),provided a high-level overview of the latest workers compensation insurance industry results and critical data points that demonstrate the health and resiliency of the system.

“The pandemic has demonstrated that the U.S. workers compensation system is resilient and strong,” she said. “Despite experiencing a 10 percent drop in net written premium amidst the pandemic recession, NCCI reports a calendar year combined ratio of 87, indicating a sign of profitability for carriers. Workers compensation reserves remain robust, with the redundancy growing to $14 billion in 2020.”

Dr. Sam Madden, co-founder and chief scientist from Cambridge Mobile Telematics, a telematics and analytics provider for insurers, rideshares, and fleets, discussed exposure and risk trends in mobility from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that in early March 2020 there was a precipitous drop in driving – nearly 60 percent – as the pandemic hit and the country shut down.

“During the summer of 2020, people began driving more, but overall, miles [driven] still remained depressed. As restrictions loosened and more people became vaccinated, driving returned to near pre-pandemic levels,” he said.

However, while the number of miles driven dropped during the pandemic, speeding spiked 45 percent. “Reduced traffic meant that many drivers could speed, and they did!” Dr. Madden continued. “Speeding remained elevated throughout the pandemic, and remains somewhat elevated today, with levels about 10 percent higher on average than pre-pandemic.”

Dr. Michel Léonard, CBE, vice president and senior economist, Triple-I, noted that the most important issue right now in terms of economics and insurance is the wide range of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and inflation forecasts.

“We’ve never seen GDP forecasts from the Fed and financial institutions ranging from 4 percent to as much as 10 percent. What we can be sure is that the economy has been recovering in Q1 and so far in Q2, but such discrepancies in major economic indicators should be cause for caution, especially as COVID-19 is still an issue here in the U.S. and abroad,” he said.  

Amid such wider economic uncertainty, Dr. Léonard said, what may be more helpful for insurance practitioners “is to focus on the insurance sector’s own growth, which outperformed the wider economy by nearly 6 percent in 2020 and is well positioned to do so again in 2021. Another insight is the growing consensus around the upward direction of interest rates which should help lift up net income from last year’s minus 3.8 percent.”

Why Financial Markets and Fed See Post-Pandemic Recovery Differently

Two narratives about how recovery from the COVID-19-driven economic downturn will play out are competing in the business press – the Federal Reserve’s and that of the financial markets.

Market economists typically forecast wider changes in quarter-over-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) than their counterparts at the Fed. But the current discrepancy is wider than it has been in decades. This is creating so much confusion in financial news that a recent edition of Squawk Box discussed the extent to which “markets seem reluctant to believe the Fed’s policy goals.”

The markets see recent GDP growth as closely aligned to stock market performance: a dramatic drop in the second quarter of 2020 and an equally dramatic recovery from third-quarter 2020 to third-quarter 2021.

The Fed sees GDP as driven by structural economic considerations that move only gradually from quarter to quarter. As a result, the Fed estimated a smaller drop in GDP for second-quarter 2020 and a slower recovery ever since.

Over the last year, the Fed view was proven right multiple times.

“Triple-I’s forecasts fall within the consensus central banks view, as represented by the Fed for the U.S. and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the large insurance markets we follow,” said Dr. Michel Léonard, Triple-I vice president and senior economist.  He said the expectations gap comes down to three economic considerations:

  • Fiscal stimulus and GDP growth: Fed and market economists disagree about the extent of the relationship between fiscal stimulus and growth. When generating GDP forecasts, all economists assign a “multiplier” to quantify the impact of government spending on GDP growth. Market economists tend to assign larger multipliers than central bank economists. Given the historically high fiscal stimulus of the last 12 months, market economists expect historically high GDP growth. 
  • Shifts in economic output: They also tend to weight quarterly data differently. Fed economists focus more heavily on quarter-to-quarter trends, and market economists on changes within quarters. The COVID-19 economy upended how certain activities are carried out and reduced the comprehensiveness of quarterly data. For market economists, this led to overestimating the decrease in activity in the second quarter of  2020 and now overestimating the increase in first and second quarter 2021.
  • Timing: The Fed and markets agree broadly about GDP growth but disagree on timing. Both expect a comparable amount of growth between now and 2023 but, for the reasons above, allocate it differently across 2021, 2022, and 2023. Market economists allocate most of the growth to 2021, while Fed economists spread it over the 2021-2023 period. This has led to the Fed forecasting higher growth in 2022 than some markets economists.

Here’s what’s happening to your auto insurance costs

By James Lynch, Chief Actuary, Senior Vice President of Research and Education, Triple-I

You’ve probably been reading news stories about rising inflation, and auto insurance has been pulled into the picture. But that is a little misleading.

Auto insurance rates aren’t soaring. They are returning to normal, pre-pandemic levels.

Consumer prices in April were 4.2 percent higher than a year ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday, and its report picked out auto insurance as one of the areas that had “a large impact on the overall increase.”

Auto insurance rates were 2.5 percent higher in April than in March and 6.1 percent higher than a year ago.

That doesn’t mean, though, that the cost of auto insurance is skyrocketing. Remember that a year ago – April 2020 – insurers were busy returning billions of dollars to consumers because of the drastic change in driving patterns the pandemic brought on.

Those givebacks – which eventually totaled $14 billion – drove down the price of insurance, and the official inflation numbers reflected that.

Now driving patterns are returning to pre-pandemic norms – more or less. People are driving somewhat less than before, but they are driving faster and are much more likely to tinker with their smartphones or practice other distracting behaviors.

Premiums are reflecting the new normal, and in terms of the cost of insurance, that looks a lot like the old normal. The price of insurance, using BLS indices, is virtually unchanged from pre-pandemic levels – 0.01 percent higher than it was in March 2020, when the pandemic/recession began.