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Insurers’ shares buffeted by Brexit storm

Shares of Bermudian-based insurers were battered last Friday after Britons voted to leave the European Union.

Uncertainty over what happens next, question marks over future access to markets, a fall in bond yields squeezing investment income and currency-market fluctuations were all factors as their shares slid, in many cases more than the wider market.

One of the worst hit was XL Group, which plunged 6.1 per cent in New York trading to close on $31.25.

XL, which operates under the XL Catlin brand and whose shareholders voted last week to redomesticate from Ireland to Bermuda, acquired the largest operator in the Lloyd's of London market when it merged with Catlin Group last year.

Lloyd's insurers enjoy easy access to European Union countries, in terms of doing business and setting up branches in other EU countries, as a result of Britain's membership of the EU. The vote will inevitably change the relationship with the EU.

However, Hiscox, which is based in Bermuda and also has a substantial Lloyd's operation fell just 2.3 per cent in Friday trading on the London Stock Exchange.

Willis Towers Watson, an insurance and reinsurance broker with headquarters in London, saw its shares tank 8.3 per cent, while AIG slumped 7.3 per cent.

Life insurers were among the worst hit on the US market as the Brexit vote pushed down the bond yields which dampened the prospects for their investment portfolios. Life insurers rely on returns from their massive investments to pay benefits to policyholders and low yields are increasingly failing to match the companies' obligations.

MetLife, the largest US life insurer, dropped 11 per cent and Lincoln National Corp fell 13 per cent, while the S&P 500 Life & Health Insurance Index fell 8.4 per cent, the most in five years.

Bill Gross of Janus Capital, considered an authority on fixed-income markets, said in a Bloomberg interview on Friday that insurers, banks and pension funds are “slowly going bankrupt”.

The institutions have some liabilities that count on annual investment returns of 4 per cent to 7 per cent, and many long-term bonds are yielding 2 per cent or less, he said.

Steve Kandarian, MetLife's chief executive officer, was clearly unimpressed with the Brexit vote.

“The decision to exit creates uncertainty for the global economy,” he said in a statement. “From a strictly economic perspective, it's difficult to see who benefits from this outcome.”

Brexit shock: shares of XL Group fell 6.1 per cent on Friday

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Published June 27, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 27, 2016 at 1:04 am)

Insurers’ shares buffeted by Brexit storm

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