Standard & Poor’s has downgraded the U.S. sovereign debt rating to AA+ from AAA. Implications for (re)insurers worldwide are mixed. Although there are broad economic implications, markets appear to have anticipated at least some of these, which could forestall rash or catastrophic outcomes. The long-term effects, however, could be profound.
Posts Tagged ‘liquidity’
Earlier this year, the (re)insurance industry celebrated an abundance of capital. Buybacks and dividends were common, as carriers struggled to find productive uses for their extra cash. Only a few months later, we are in the midst of a financial catastrophe that is wreaking havoc on balance sheets and constraining carrier access to capital. And, the situation could worsen. A major catastrophe event could place substantial demands on (re)insurer capital in a climate where replenishment would be both time-consuming and costly.
While hurricanes spun through the Gulf of Mexico last month, a larger catastrophe ripped through New York, London, Shanghai, and every other major financial center in the world. Tropical Storm Credit Crisis (which started as Tropical Depression Subprime) intensified quickly and became a Financial Catastrophe that destroyed vast amounts of shareholder wealth.
The amount coming into the market has increased after each mega-catastrophe. This probably reflects the increased knowledge of insurance markets by the investment community, the increased liquidity and depth of capital markets overall, and the growing size of the losses and concomitant opportunity.
To download this chart, right-click on the image, and select “Save Picture As”. If you have any trouble, please e-mail us.
Excess capital is only excessive until you need it. Throughout the year, carriers have struggled to find uses for capital that has not seemed necessary, given the benign loss years that followed the 2005 storm season. Rates are down, retentions are up, and repatriation has been continual. Market conditions have overshadowed analytics in determining carrier behavior. But, aggressive repatriation may have been hasty. Looking to the future, buyback and dividend decisions could benefit from Enterprise Risk Management (ERM).
For several years, carriers have enjoyed a period of low insured losses, and access to cash has not been a problem. Traditional sources have been bolstered by the largesse of hedge funds, private equity funds, and even the wealth of high-net worth investors through a variety of insurance-linked securities (ILS). But, credit market turmoil has brought these conditions to an unceremonious close.
The next renewal period may be four months away, but it is uppermost in everyone’s mind across the (re)insurance industry. Without a crystal ball, it is impossible to predict the market’s exact trajectory, but several trends have become evident in 2008. Absent a mega-catastrophe, rates likely will continue to trend downward but will be tempered by pressure on investment gains arising from the ongoing effects of the global credit crunch and reinsurers’ fears of an imminent market-changing disaster.