New York–Although executives speaking here at an insurance conference yesterday said their companies still didn’t have adjusters in Katrina-impacted areas to assess damages, they also cited market opportunities following the devastation.

“This is a significant event for our company,” said PXRE CEO Jeff Radke during a presentation at the Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Insurance Conference. He added, however, that while it isn’t possible to develop a credible loss estimate for his Bermuda-based reinsurer yet, “our loss will leave us with enough capital to really thrive in the market opportunity that’s going to follow at Jan. 1.”

Hurricane Katrina has produced “a very significant industry loss,” a major proportion of which–unlike last year–will be borne by the reinsurance industry, he said. “That is going to move the market,” he added, noting he is particularly bullish about price increases and tighter terms and conditions in the retrocessional market–a large component of PXRE’s portfolio.

“I considered carefully how aggressive I wanted to be” with that prediction, said Mr. Radke, noting that it’s early to be going out on a limb with a forecast for January. But “having been through five or six of these big events, the pattern starts to emerge, and the loss is too big to not have a significant impact on pricing,” he added.

Explaining that PXRE plans its portfolio so that a 1-in-250-year event will not cause the reinsurer to lose more than 25 percent of its beginning-of-the-year capital, he said the maximum loss for PXRE is therefore $340 million from such a rare event (beginning capital was $850 million, and income, excluding Katrina, was expected to be $140 million). He added, however: “We don’t think Katrina is as big an event as when we talk about a 1-in-250.”

“Following an event like Katrina, given how bullish we are about that market, this is one of those happy cases where if a rating agency were to insist that we raise capital to maintain our rating, it wouldn’t trouble us much at all,” he said. “Our confidence in being able to utilize that capital is very, very strong.”

Beyond retrocessional coverage, he predicted the U.S. property-catastrophe reinsurance market would see higher pricing. “In fact, our collective guess at PXRE is that [the hurricane] will have a stabilizing impact on property-cat business outside the United States” as well.

Within the United States, he noted that while last year’s hurricanes had a “laser impact” on the Florida catastrophe market where many Florida-only companies buy coverage, “there’s no such thing as a ‘Gulf program.’” Instead, Gulf exposure gets thrown into nationwide catastrophe programs that are bought by big stock companies rather than small mutuals.

At a later session, however, William Berkley, CEO of Greenwich, Conn.-based specialty insurer and reinsurer W.R. Berkley Corp., predicted that “small companies that write homeowners are going to have to pay dearly for their reinsurance.”

During a separate presentation, representatives of Allstate revealed that the Northbrook, Ill.-based personal lines giant has no reinsurance for Alabama, Louisiana or Mississippi exposures, noting that high-end excess coverage is purchased only for seven individual states, which include Florida, New Jersey and Texas.

Ron McNeil, senior vice president of distribution, who gave Allstate’s presentation to investors, said that not only is no estimate of Allstate’s Katrina losses available yet, but that he couldn’t even put a time estimate on when it would be. Members of the claims team have not been in the area, he said.

At The Hartford, CEO Ramani Ayer also said his company has not been able to get claims adjusters on site but told conference attendees that Hartford’s market share in the three impacted Gulf states is at fairly low levels for the homeowners, auto and commercial property lines compared to countrywide levels (1.4 percent or less).

Mr. Berkley was able to release an estimate of Katrina losses for his company–$25 million, with half of the figure coming from Lloyd’s exposure, and $7.5 million from Mississippi wind pool exposure.

Turning to overall trends, Mr. Berkley predicted that Katrina will fuel “the next big turmoil in legislation,” which will involve a group of states pushing for a federal catastrophe relief program. That would mean non-exposed states subsidizing cat-prone states, he said, predicting the upshot could be legislation allowing insurers to put aside tax-free catastrophe reserves.

Mr. Ayer said he believes the probability of renewal for the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act–perhaps with some modifications–is now greater than 50 percent. “I’m more optimistic that as a result of what we have seen in the Southeast, tragically, that the country is going to be very focused on disaster preparedness, and I believe we’ll get a lot better support” for TRIA renewal.

Mr. Berkley saw increased consolidation as another consequence of the hurricane, because reinsurance costs are going up. From Berkley’s standpoint, he added, “It is likely that there will be opportunities…to pick up some outstanding people and to enter some new businesses. The best people at companies hurt by this hurricane are not going to sit around. They’ll be sympathetic with their companies for a few months, but they don’t want to have their lives stopped while they wait for things to happen.”

Turning to discuss market conditions in commercial lines, he said that historically cycles have turned down more slowly than most people think. “We think there’s a lot of profitability left in the cycle, and we think that the hurricane will in fact extend that.”

But “you’re not going to see dramatic changes in pricing,” he added. His pre-Katrina expectations for price changes at Berkley were flat-to-down 3 percent for 2005, and down 5-to-7 percent for 2006. Now, his expectation is flat-to-up 5 percent this year, and up 5-to-7 percent next year.

More dramatic impacts will be in offshore energy, commercial property and homeowners, he said. Commercial property prices–which he estimates have fallen 30 percent in three years–will stop going down, if not move up, he predicted.

Mr. Radke provided a similar assessment. Noting that PXRE doesn’t write these lines, he said marine and energy is expected to have a very big loss–as much as $5 billion to $8 billion–and that the risk-excess market will be heavily impacted as commercial policies covering flood pay out.

Mr. Berkley also suggested that part of the hurricane impact might be to stop the decline in personal auto rates.

Mr. Ayer commented that while auto remains a profitable line, rates have “slowed down materially,” adding that the impact of Katrina “on auto market leaders…and their aggressiveness” will be a factor in 2006. He also noted that the price of gasoline will have a “discernable effect” on loss costs–since miles driven will decline, auto claims frequency is likely to drop as well.