Models Miss Sandy Losses, Need Adjustment: Fitch

Catastrophe modelers have spent a lot of time analyzing the Northeast for windstorm risk, but Superstorm Sandy revealed numerous failings in the programs, resulting in significant losses for some insurers, says Fitch Ratings.

In a special report, “Hurricane Sandy Update,” Fitch says the standout exposure during Sandy was the storm surge that it produced. The storm, despite making landfall on the southern coast of New Jersey, produced record storm surge “associated with hurricanes of greater intensity. As a result, it was the flooding and not the wind that caused the most damage,” says Fitch.

Superstorm Sandy, which struck on Oct. 29, was no longer considered a hurricane when it struck; its status had been reduced to and extra-tropical cyclone by the time it struck the Eastern seaboard.

The models, Fitch went on to say, did not capture the exposure to auto losses as sea salt water produced total loss to thousands of cars, many new or vintage.

“Hurricane models typically produce low automobile losses under the assumption that the majority of vehicles are driven away prior to the storm as part of the evacuation,” says Fitch.

The rating service notes that AIR estimates that more than 230,000 automobiles were affected by the storm, producing insured auto losses between $1 billion and $1.2 billion.

Fitch says that the industry will be reexamining its exposure to the Northeast after back-to-back catastrophe years with Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Sandy last year. The nature of Sandy, producing so much destruction despite being a extra-tropical storm, will force insurers to reevaluate their pricing and terms and conditions of policies.

Fitch does not believe Sandy will be a market-changing event. However, it will help sustain the gradual rate increases that insurers have sought over the past few years, especially in regions of the Northeast impacted by Sandy, where rate increases may be substantial, says Fitch.

Fitch adds that overall losses will fall within the high-end of loss estimates, reaching $20 billion and coming close to the $25 billion mark. It says companies have reported losses of approximately $16 billion to $17 billion so far.

One reinsurance broker, Holborn, says the models are further off the mark and total loss could be closer to $30 billion. That same figure was echoed by former Willis Chief Executive Joe Plumeri in a recent interview.

While a number of major companies have yet to report Sandy losses, such as State Farm, Berkshire Hathaway and Liberty Mutual, there have been some notable loss announcements.

Lloyd’s of London estimates its net claims could fall between $2 billion and $2.5 billion. American International Group put out a pre-tax net loss estimate of $2 billion, partly because its Lexington Insurance Company provides excess insurance coverage to the New York MTA.

The MTA says it suffered $5 billion in loss to its infrastructure of tunnels, bridges and transit system. The MTA says it expects insurance recovery of $1.075 billion, which has placements with AIG and Lloyd’s.

Fitch says that most insurance-company losses are a manageable 7 percent or less of shareholder equity with an overall average of 3 percent. Only three companies were higher: Tower Group Inc. (8 percent), Validus Holdings, Ltd. (8.1 percent), and The Hanover Insurance Group, Inc. (8 percent).

The rating service notes that all three companies grew by acquisitions in recent years, “resulting in increased exposure to Northeast U.S. catastrophe risk.”

Concerning ratings, Fitch says it “does not anticipate material rating changes for individual property and casualty insurers.” 

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