Although players in the market say commercial insurance premiums won’t be going up anytime soon, the pace of price declines might be bottoming out, the latest “Market Barometer” survey indicates.

Indeed, last month’s 12 percent average rate cut in U.S. property-casualty commercial policies was two points below February’s 14 percent average decline, three points less than January and four points lower than December 2007′s peak of 16 percent.

Still, while the speed with which premiums fall might be slowing down, that doesn’t mean the current buyer’s market will be coming to an end, according to Richard Kerr, chairman and chief executive officer of MarketScout, which produces the monthly “Market Barometer” survey.

“We anticipate rate decreases to moderate for the remainder of 2008. However, a lessening rate decrease in 2008 does not mean the soft market is coming to an end,” said Mr. Kerr.

“The soft market began in February 2005, so after 36 months, rate reductions will naturally moderate,” he noted in a statement accompanying MarketScout’s latest survey. “For instance, including the March 2008 reduction of 12 percent, rates are down almost 30 percent from March 2005 to March 2008.”

Mr. Kerr also pointed out that insurers remain hungry for all types of business, including programs with books of business starting as low as $2 million.

“Four years ago, no one would talk to you unless you had a $7.5 million book to kick-start your program,” he said. “A good distribution network supported by technical underwriting skills and as little as $2 million in premium will attract attention today.”

MarketScout–a Dallas-based electronic insurance exchange, which underwrites and distributes product lines to a 60,000-member agency network–has been tracking the U.S. p-c market since 2001.

The company said its monthly “Market Barometer” is created using data assimilated via its online insurance exchange, further supported by in-person surveys of retail agents, company personnel, wholesale brokers and managing general agents.

MarketScout said its barometer findings are also supported by surveys conducted by The National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research during CIC and CRM institutes across the United States.

More than 40 “A”-rated carriers participate in the MarketScout exchange platform at

The rates of decline for March 2008, broken down by coverage class, industry class and account size, were as follows:

By Coverage Class:

o Commercial Property–14 percent

o Business Interruption–12 percent

o Inland Marine–11 percent

o General Liability–14 percent

o Umbrella/Excess Liability–12 percent

o EPLI–12 percent

o Commercial Auto–8 percent

o Professional Liability–9 percent

o D&O Liability–9 percent

o Workers’ Compensation–8 percent

o Fiduciary–8 percent

o Crime–8 percent

o Surety–7 percent

By Account Size:

o Small Accounts (up to $25,000)–12 percent

o Medium Accounts ($25,001 to $250,000)–14 percent

o Large Accounts ($250,000 to $1 million)–12 percent

o Jumbo Accounts (over $1 million)–13 percent

By Industry Class:

o Manufacturing–14 percent

o Contracting–14 percent

o Service–14 percent

o Habitational–12 percent

o Transportation–12 percent

o Public Entity–10 percent

o Energy–10 percent