P/C Insurers’ Loss Reserves “Remain Deficient” Says Best Report

October 6, 2004

A special report from A.M. Best Co. confirms that “a key driving factor of property/casualty rating downgrades over the past several years has been the impact of significant adverse loss and loss-adjustment expense (LAE) reserve development related to prior accident years.”

Best said, “the impact of adverse reserve development has been particularly significant in the commercial lines and reinsurance segments. As adverse reserve development is one of the leading causes of insurer insolvencies.” Reserve adequacy therefore remains “a critical rating issue.”

The report notes the large reserve charges “have resulted in worse-than-expected operating performance and weakened capitalization of a number of insurance companies, often leading to ratings pressure and downgrades.” Best also indicated that “despite the considerable reserve charges, which totaled almost $47 billion over the past three calendar years,” it believes “the industry’s overall carried reserve position remains deficient.”

Best said the industry’s reserves could be deficient “by as much as $67.0 billion, or approximately 19 percent of policyholder surplus. Of the $67.0 billion deficiency, $38.5 billion is related to unfunded asbestos and environmental (A&E) losses and $28.5 billion is related to core (non-A&E) loss and LAE reserves. These deficiencies have declined over the past several years, but they remain significant.

“Representing 54 percent of the property/casualty insurance industry’s total liabilities at year-end 2003, loss and LAE reserves play an integral role in determining a company’s balance sheet strength. As an estimate of all future claim costs that have not yet been paid, a company’s loss and LAE reserve is not only the largest but also the most difficult liability to estimate, particularly for long-tail lines of business where it may take 10 or more years to finally settle claims.”

The report notes that for “casualty-oriented insurers, where carried reserves may be four or five times the size of policyholder surplus, a 25 percent reserve deficiency will render the company technically insolvent. For this reason, A.M. Best scrutinizes reserve adequacy in the rating process.

“As the industry’s reserve deficiency remains quite large, and despite the reserve charges in recent years, A.M. Best expects continued adverse reserve development in the near to mid term, particularly in the commercial lines and reinsurance segments. Also, a number of companies recently have completed or are in the process of completing ground-up A&E studies. Virtually all of the larger companies that completed these A&E studies increased their reserves for A&E losses, in some cases significantly. While market conditions generally have hardened for most lines of business, future reserve charges may severely impact the balance sheets and operating performance of some carriers. If unexpected, such charges would result in ratings pressure and downgrades.”

The bulletin notes that BestWeek subscribers can download a PDF copy of all full special reports at no additional cost or a combination of the PDF copies plus all related spreadsheet files of the report data at no additional cost from our Web site at http://www.bestweek.com.

Nonsubscribers can download a PDF copy of the full special report (8 pages) for $50 or a combination of the PDF copy plus the spreadsheet file of the report data for $100 from Best’s Web site at http://www.bestweek.com.

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