A.M. Best: A ‘Mega-Cat’ Hurricane Would Be Fatal to Some Insurers

June 1, 2006

A new Special Report from the A.M. Best Company on the impact of a possible “mega-cat” hurricane — $100 billion or more in insured losses — finds that the financial consequences would be serious and widespread for the insurance industry and the public.

Possible scenarios include unusually intense hurricanes striking portions of the Eastern United States, from the Northeast to Florida. Insured claims could surpass $100 billion, wreaking havoc on insurer financials. Indeed, anywhere from 20 to 40 insurers could be vulnerable to failure from that magnitude of U.S. insured property losses, according to A.M. Best’s statistical analysis in “2006 Annual Hurricane Study: Shake, Rattle and Roar.”

The new report assesses how the U.S. property/casualty industry might be affected by a potential, perhaps likely, $100 billion-plus insured property loss — almost twice the catastrophe losses from last year’s hurricane season. Beyond the obvious impact on insurers’ financial solvency, policyholders could see delayed payment of claims and difficulty finding affordable coverage. Some insurers, facing scarce and more costly reinsurance, would seek to mitigate their exposures in high-value coastal areas.

With the property/casualty industry’s 2005 policyholder surplus at $434 billion, a loss of 20 percent or more of that amount begins at $87 billion. To help assess how losses of that magnitude would impact today’s industry, A.M. Best asked the leading catastrophe modelers — AIR Worldwide Corp, Eqecat Inc. and Risk Management Solutions Inc. — for several examples of credible catastrophe events. Each included a variation on a Northeast hurricane hitting the New Jersey or New York areas and a Florida hurricane making landfall close to Miami. Insured property losses under various scenarios and models ranged from $95 billion to $146 billion.

While the insurance industry in aggregate could weather such a financial storm, individual insurer rating downgrades and financial impairments likely would soar, A.M. Best found. Anywhere from 20 to 40 insurers, or 3 percent to 7 percent of all insurers with catastrophe-related exposure, would be vulnerable to failure. At the high end, impairments would nearly equal all catastrophe-induced insurance failures of the past 37 years, reaching roughly three times the number seen after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Colorado State University climatologists William M. Gray and Philip J. Klotzbach predict nine Atlantic hurricanes for the 2006 season — five of them intense, or Category 3, 4 or 5. The probability of a major U.S. hurricane landfall is estimated at 55 percent above average. The build-up of population and real estate development in highly vulnerable areas means it is only a matter of time before insured property losses top $100 billion from one event or a combination of events in one year, according to A.M. Best.

Companies at greatest risk of impairment tend to be thinly capitalized insurers with a Vulnerable Best’s Rating (B or below) or some companies not rated by A.M. Best. Conversely, at higher Best’s Rating levels, the risk of an insurer facing financial impairment as a result of catastrophic losses decreases.

At the time of this publication, four insurer failures have been tied directly to the 2004-2005 storms.

Source: A.M. Best

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