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Irene could trigger insurance rates rise

Bermuda reinsurers are closely watching Hurricane Irene as it makes its way towards the US East Coast with industry analysts predicting the powerful storm could be a trigger for rises in rates and share prices.

If Irene becomes the first hurricane to hit the US in three years, analysts predict it could cause billions in insured losses, and said it could also be the catalyst the insurance industry has been seeking for across-the-board premium increases after years of weakness.

“It wouldn't take much of a material event to cause significant firming,” Gary Prestia, chief executive of the US business of Flagstone Re, which has offices in Bermuda, is quoted as saying in a Reuters report. “It wouldn't take the typical $40 billion Katrina to push this into a firmer market than it is currently.

Bradley Kading, head of the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers, said the industry already had been expecting a

very active US hurricane season.

“Bermuda reinsurers remain well capitalised to support their business obligations,” Mr Kading told

The Royal Gazette. “Bermuda's reinsurers are experts in catastrophe risk. The Bermuda Monetary Authority regulates with specific stress tests to ensure companies maintain adequate capital commensurate with risk.”

Reuters reported that if prices firm, then analysts say it is a fair bet that share prices will follow, with shares of many of the largest insurers and reinsurers based in Bermuda “down sharply this year despite the active hurricane season”.

ACE Ltd, XL Group, PartnerRe and Everest Re are down between 10 and 24 percent since June 1.

Reuters reported that by some estimates, insurers have lost as much as $90 billion already this year, 20 percent more than they lost in 2009 and 2010 combined.

But re/insurers have not been able to raise rates for three years amid strong competition and readily available supply.

The year to date already promises to be the costliest year in history for natural disasters around the globe, from the devastating quakes in Japan and New Zealand to the US Midwest blizzards, Southwest wildfires, and severe flooding and tornadoes across America, including the tornado disasters in Alabama and Missouri in April and May.

Credit ratings agency AM Best Co said yesterday that estimates for catastrophe-related losses experienced by just the US property/casualty industry in the first half of 2011, showed that losses already have topped total year-end 2010 losses.

Estimated total catastrophe-related losses were $27 billion in the first half of 2011, up $15.1 billion, or 127 percent, from $11.9 billion reported during the same period a year ago.

AM Best said it believes the overall industry has the capital to effectively absorb the losses, but notes that the industry will be tested through the remainder of 2011- “more so if another severe event occurs”.

That severe event could well be Irene.

“If the forecasts are verified by the actual event, this'll just be another multibillion-dollar event on top of an incredibly busy year already,” Jose Miranda, a senior executive at catastrophe modelling company Eqecat, told Reuters. “Hurricane season is only one-third over and we've already had almost a full year's activity on average already.”

Reuters said some worst-case scenarios are covered by catastrophe bonds, which insurers and reinsurers use to transfer risk to outside investors.

Last July the Bermuda Stock said its catastrophe bond listings were valued at more than $1 billion.

Since new legislation was introduced at the end of 2009, the

BSX has been marketing Bermuda as the jurisdiction of choice for setting up and listing insurance linked security structures such as cat bonds.

The percentage of the cat bond market with exposure to US hurricane risk has grown from 38 percent in 2003 to 71 percent today, according to broker Guy Carpenter.

Resort landscaping manager Chris Jaeger fills his truck and ten five-gallon gas containers yesterday morning in Garden City, S.C., Tuesday Aug. 23, 2011. Jaeger said they gassed up their vehicles Monday and just want to be prepared in case Hurricane Irene hits the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina area.

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Published August 24, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 24, 2011 at 8:33 am)

Irene could trigger insurance rates rise

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