Filed Under:Claims, Catastrophe & Restoration

A.M. Best finds global reinsurance market appears to be operating amid malaise

Debris from destroyed mobile site in the Naples Estates mobile home park in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Naples, Fla., Monday, Sept. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Debris from destroyed mobile site in the Naples Estates mobile home park in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Naples, Fla., Monday, Sept. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

A new report from insurance rating source A.M. Best finds that the global reinsurance market booked its second loss in 10 years in 2016; the other occurred in 2011.

The Best’s Special Report, “Down But Not Out: Reinsurers Look to Reposition Amid Market Disruption,” finds that the current market “appears to be operating amid malaise” and ended 2016 with an accident combined ratio of 101.0.

Related: Insurers rally from Florida to Europe as Irma fears abate

While some may say this is a conservative loss, the reality is that since 2013, the sector’s combined ratios have continued to weaken, leading A.M. Best to change its outlook for the insurance sector to negative as far back as the summer of 2014. The report describes the return on equity for the last three years as “anemic,” ending at 8% in 2016, or approximately five percentage points lower than 2013, with a dedicated reinsurance capacity at an estimated $420 billion.

The report also says that some of the loss was masked by interest in mortgage reinsurance as well as an increase in loss reserve development. However, the company finds that an above average catastrophe year, as seems to be the case with both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, could be viewed as “exceedingly damaging” for reinsurers.

“If the reinsurance market is booking the accident year combined ratio at a loss in a relatively benign catastrophe year, and that in and of itself is not the impetus for change, the next logical question is: What will it take to turn the market?” asked Robert DeRose, A.M. Best senior director in a press release. “At this point, it does not appear that the lack of underwriting profit in the current book or continued erosion in return on equity will break the cycle.”

When the company questioned why third-party capital would continue to enter the already declining reinsurance market, they found that “property catastrophe reinsurance is viewed as a non-correlating asset class to a broadly diversified investment portfolio for many pension plans.”

From a ratings perspective, A.M. Best says it will continue to have a negative outlook for the reinsurance sector, which will probably not change given the exposures from the latest hurricanes, although Florida is already known to be at a higher risk for catastrophic storms.

Top reinsurers

The report also identified the top 50 reinsurers as measured by the reinsurance gross premiums written (GPW). The top 10 reinsurers are:

  1. Swiss Re Ltd.
  2. Munich Reinsurance Company.
  3. Hannover Ruck S.E.
  4. SCOR S.E.
  5. Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
  6. Lloyd’s.
  7. Reinsurance Group of America Inc.
  8. China Reinsurance (Group) Corporation.
  9. Great West Lifeco.
  10. Korean Reinsurance Company.

Combined, Swiss Re and Munich Re represent more than 30% of the GPW and these 10 companies comprise $156 billion or a little under 70% of the total GPW, meaning much of risk is held by these firms.

Flooding from Hurricane Irma in Jacksonville, FL

Water rises in a neighborhood after Hurricane Irma brought floodwaters to Jacksonville, Fla., Monday, Sept. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The hurricane impact

A.M. Best assembled a panel of rating and insurance-linked securities (ILS) experts to evaluate the market and why investors still value it despite the weakness in growth. One of the questions addressed the impact of a major event on the market.

Related: Irma cuts power to 6.4 million, shuts ports, imperils crops

Aditya Dutt of RenaissanceRe shared that, “At a very simple level, you have an expected loss. Let’s call it a very big one. Pick Florida because everyone thinks they know about Florida. A big loss occurs in Florida. It’s a well-modeled region of the world. We think what prevails is the capital provider. The capital provider is comfortable putting in more capital." However, Dutt said that reinsurers will be less likely to rush into a peril or region of the world that is unknown or unmodeled. 

Frank Majors of Nephila Capital believes that capital can flow into risk much more efficiently than it did 10 to 15 years ago. He says from an underwriting perspective, when investors have more time to ask questions and conduct research on a specific risk, the more willing they are to reinvest following a negative event.

'It is going to be interesting'

He said, “It is going to be interesting. It will be just like past events when some reinsurers failed and some thrived. You’re going to see some ILS funds fail and you’re going to see some thrive. There is enough experience to show that alternative investors are just as rational as other forms of investors.”

Majors explained that for investors who have a 2% to 10% allocation to an asset class and suffer a loss, the impact overall on their fund would not be substantial. “It’s not going to hurt them if they’ve got a 5% allocation and it’s down 20%. That’s down 1% on their fund. They can take a long view on that.”

Risk modeler AIR estimates insured losses from Hurricane Irma will be between $20 billion and $65 billion for the U.S. and Caribbean. Data analytics firm CoreLogic estimates that more than 3.4 million residential and commercial properties in Florida were at risk for hurricane-driven storm surge, but did not provide figures on possible damage from inland flooding.

The fact that Hurricane Irma continues to be downgraded as it moves north and that it traveled significantly faster than Hurricane Harvey could help mitigate some of the damage sustained across the Florida and neighboring states, and by the insurers and reinsurers in those areas.


Who claims the top spot on A.M. Best's Top 50 Global Reinsurers?

The change in the No. 1 position was the first for any of the top three spots since 2010.

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