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Reinsurers face hefty bill from severe weather

Bermuda reinsurers could be in the hook for larger winter claims than normal coming from both sides of the Atlantic, after a string of storms hit the US and UK over the past few weeks.

PCS, a division of Verisk Analytics, has already calculated insured losses of $1.5 billion in the US between January 1 and February 21, 2014 — and that takes into account only two of at least four winter storms so far. A large part of the eastern seaboard was once again dealing with heavy snowfall and below-freezing temepratures yesterday.

Extreme weather has also been taking its toll in Britain. The bill sent to insurers from storms bringing hurricane strength winds and widespread flooding to parts of the UK since December could reach £1.5 billion ($2.5 billion), according to consultants at Deloitte.

The consultancy had estimated insured losses from winter storms in the UK since the autumn would be up to £1 billion but has upgraded its view after the bad weather continued into February.

In the US more than 175,000 claims have been paid out to policyholders, PCS reported, after heavy snowfall and prolonged extreme cold throughout many parts of the country led to incidents including roof collapses, downed tree limbs and power lines, burst pipes and auto accidents.

The Insurance Information Institute (III) said many companies have also sustained business interruption and supply chain losses due to severe travel and transportation delays and business closings. Winter does not officially end until March 19.

“Severe winter weather, including snow, sleet, freezing rain, extreme cold and ice damage, accounted for 7.1 percent of all insured catastrophe losses between 1993 and 2012, placing it third behind hurricanes and tropical storms (40 percent) and tornadoes (36 percent) as the costliest natural disasters,” said Dr Robert Hartwig, president of the III and an economist.

“While most winter storm losses occur in northern and mountainous regions of the US, this spate of severe cold has also affected millions of home and business owners in the south, many of whom were unprepared for such extreme conditions.”

Dr Hartwig added that despite the severity of this winter, losses are well within the magnitude planned for by insurers, noting that the insurance industry entered 2014 in rock solid financial condition, with record claims paying capital.

Winter storms caused $2 billion in insured losses in 2013, up dramatically from $38 million in 2012, according to reports from Munich Re. From 1993 to 2012 winter storms resulted in about $28 billion in insured catastrophe losses (in 2012 dollars), or $1.4 billion per year on average, according to PCS.

“Three of the four most costly years ever for insured losses from winter storms and damage occurred in the 1990s, led by the ‘Storm of the Century' in 1993,” said Dr Hartwig. Also known as the Great Blizzard of 1993, it affected 24 US states and Canada, causing more than $3.2 billion (in 2013 dollars) and 270 fatalities.”

As for the extreme weather in the UK, James Rakow, insurance partner at Deloitte, told Reuters: “Our view on the cost of weather claims from both the storms and the floods from December through to the end of February is that it has now gone through the £1 billion mark and is heading towards £1.5 billion.”

Rakow added the bulk of the cost will be attributed to damage to commercial and domestic property since the start of the year on account of storms in mid-February and floodwaters reaching the affluent outskirts of London.

Last month, the British Government summoned senior executives from top insurers to brief ministers on how they were addressing the damage caused by flooding.

Insurer RSA said last week it expects to take a £45-60 million hit from claims related to flooding in the UK while Direct Line forecast a £70-90 million cost from claims between the start of the year and February 22.

Cruel winter: Large ice jams encroach on waterfront property along the Kankakee River last Friday in Wilmington, Illinois

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Published March 04, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated March 03, 2014 at 9:21 pm)

Reinsurers face hefty bill from severe weather

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