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Insurers’ shares surge as Irene loss estimates fall

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Share prices of Bermuda market re/insurers surged yesterday, as estimates of insured losses from Hurricane Irene fell to about $2.6 billion.

However, an industry analyst believe that the losses will not be sufficiently large to spark a meaningful increase in rates.

Flagstone Re soared 8.6 percent to $7.58 in New York Stock Exchange trading yesterday, while Platinum Underwriters rocketed eight percent and Montpelier Re was up 7.6 percent.

Both Axis Capital and XL Group recorded a 6.9 percent gain, while Alterra Capital climbed almost 6.8 percent. Aspen Insurance, PartnerRe and Validus also jumped more than five percent.

The wider market also had a strongly positive day, with the S&P 500 climbing 2.8 percent.

Last week, when Irene was forecast to hit New York as a Category 2 storm, catastrophe modellers were predicting insurers would have to pay out up to $14 billion.

But the massive system weakened before it reached the Big Apple, so avoiding what could have been a considerably worse scenario for an area for the highest insurance exposures in the storm’s path.

Further south, there were substantial losses. Claims could total between $200 million and $400 million in North Carolina and South Carolina, according to risk-modelling firm Eqecat. That’s less than the $1.4 billion in insured losses North Carolina sustained from Hurricane Floyd in 1999, one of the costliest storms to hit that state, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Catastrophe modelling firms are still assessing the impact of flooding, wind damage, power cuts, transportation disruption and business interruption in the other areas battered by Irene, including New York and New England, during its destructive journey up the eastern seaboard.

Insurers may also be hit with hotel and living expenses for policyholders who were forced to evacuate, according to risk modellers AIR Worldwide. More than two million people were ordered to leave low-lying areas before the storm. The majority of them were in New York and New Jersey, where hotel rates and living expenses are among the highest in the US, AIR said.

Standard homeowners’ policies sold by private carriers don’t include flood damage protection and so many of the insured losses to homes along the coast will be shouldered by government-run programmes.

The losses will add to record catastrophe claims for the industry so far this year, which have already reached as much as $90 billion globally, according to some estimates.

But the storm is unlikely to have been a sufficiently large or severe loss event to cause a turn in property and catastrophe insurance and reinsurance markets in which the Bermuda market specialises.

“It is far too early to know what total insured losses will be, but $2.6 billion probably isn’t enough to have a material impact on the market cycle,” David Bradford, executive vice-president of New York-based industry analysts Advisen, told

The Royal Gazette.

“Irene may prompt higher cat reinsurance premiums in some areas, and perhaps selective hardening in property insurance premiums, but if $2.6 billion is in the ballpark, the storm probably didn’t do enough damage to trigger overall higher premiums.

“The market remains overcapitalised, though underwriters appear to be resisting further rate decreases. Based on renewal pricing statistics Advisen compiles, the market appears to be close to the bottom of the soft cycle, but more capacity needs to be drained before material hardening occurs.”

In a note yesterday, analysts at UBS said that January renewals for property reinsurance business could see a rise between five and ten percent. UBS noted that though losses from Irene will be minimal for reinsurers, potential losses could have been substantial.

The bank added that a further hurricane causing more than $15 billion in insured losses this year would cause further increases on top of the five to ten percent it already expects. UBS’s top reinsurance stock picks are Bermuda companies Validus and Everest Re.

Earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand and flooding in Australia caused massive first-quarter catastrophe losses, with the Bermuda market alone paying out more than $6 billion in the first three months of the year. In the US, an unusually destructive string of spring tornadoes caused some $15 billion in insured losses.

But the Bermuda companies remain well capitalised and capable of meeting their obligations, Brad Kading, president of the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers, said last week.

Destructive power: A home is submerged in Fairfield, Connecticut after the visit of Hurricane Irene
Advisen executive vice-president David Bradford

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Published August 30, 2011 at 10:28 am (Updated August 30, 2011 at 10:28 am)

Insurers’ shares surge as Irene loss estimates fall

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