Fitch: Industry Can Handle Sandy Losses, and Then Some

Damage to a home in Staten Island, N.Y. after Superstorm Sandy (Credit: Mark Ruquet, PC360) Damage to a home in Staten Island, N.Y. after Superstorm Sandy (Credit: Mark Ruquet, PC360)

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Fitch Ratings service released a report saying that even if losses were to reach Katrina proportions, the industry would still be positioned to handle it and post a statutory profit.

During a conference call today, Fitch Analyst Jim Auden says that a week-and-a-half after the storm, “tremendous uncertainty” remains about what the ultimate amount of insured loss will be. He notes that catastrophe modelers have put a top figure estimate of $20 billion on the event.

Fitch performed a sensitivity exam of the U.S. insurance industry and individual insurers with hypothetical loss scenarios up to $40 billion, equal to losses from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Under the hypothetical scenario, the losses are not expected to change the ratings for the industry or the top-five companies expected to be most impacted by Sandy.

Fitch analyst Brian Schneider says in the analysis that the rating service made some “broad assumptions” that could differ from what the ultimate loss might be. He says losses were spread through eight states in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, with New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania most heavily impacted. Sixty-percent of losses were assumed to be in the personal lines and 40 percent in commercial.

The five companies expected to be most heavily impacted by the losses from Sandy are State Farm, Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Travelers and Chubb.

On the commercial side, the large commercial insurers, such as FM Global and ACE, should also be impacted.

Sandy could also have global impact as reinsurers will be covering losses.

When asked how the storm will affect regional insurers, Auden says those carriers are sufficiently reinsured for such an event as this.

Both Auden and Schneider emphasized that their analysis is not a forecast of insured loss, but a hypothetical analysis.

Auden says some companies are releasing their loss estimates, but that process could be slowed as the industry grapples with the issue of wind-vs.-flood loss. Insurers will also face substantial business-interruption losses, especially from downtown Manhattan.

 In the Fitch report, a $10 billion insured industry loss is expected to produce an industry combined ratio of 102.9. That number rises to 107.3 under a $40 billion loss scenario.

The report also says that Sandy “is not likely to change market underwriting capacity and tip the balance to a hard property market.” However, the recent general uptick in pricing trends is expected to continue into 2013.

Schneider says Fitch will be keeping an eye on insurers for any telltale signs of trouble, such as the need to re-capitalize.

In another sign of the economic impact of Sandy on the region, Impact Forecasting, Aon Benfield’s catastrophe modeler, says Sandy will become “one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history” with extensive damage and latest count of 113 dead.

Impact Forecasting says economic losses will approach or exceed $30 billion and total insured losses are likely to approach or exceed $10 billion, based on preliminary state-released government estimates and industry estimates. The modeler says it has not released its own modeled estimate.

Outside of the United States, Impact Forecasting put the total economic damage from Sandy at more than $2.4 billion for the Caribbean and the Bahamas. It gave an insured loss of $100 million for the Bahamas. A total of 73 have died outside of the U.S. including two in Canada. 

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