Washington - The commercial property/casualty market continued to soften during the third quarter, with indications that some insurers are finding an appetite for business in which they previously were not interested, according to the latest commercial market index survey by The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers (CIAB).   As has been the case the entire year, however, coastal property and catastrophe-prone risks remain costly and hard to place, brokers responding to the survey said.   The Council represents domestic and international commercial insurance brokers and agents who annually write more than 80% of the commercial property/casualty premiums in the United States and administer billions of dollars in benefits accounts.   Six out of 10 commercial insurance brokers and agents responding to the survey said their small accounts experienced decreases in renewal premiums during the third quarter, and three quarters of the brokers responding who handle large and medium-sized accounts reported that their customers had drops in premium rates. The majority of the decreases were in the 1-10% range for small, medium and large accounts, the brokers said.   An analysis of The Council's survey results by New York-based Lehman Brothers showed that the average premium rates for all commercial accounts decreased 5.3% during the third quarter. The Lehman analysis showed the average small commercial account premium down 3.4%, the average medium account premium down 5.1%, and the average large account premium down 7.3%during the third quarter.   As premium prices fall and underwriters become hungry for new business, the agents and brokers said that insurers are starting to be more aggressive in pricing and more liberal in policy terms. Types of properties "normally considered unattractive" such as car dealers, restaurants, not-for-profit and habitational are being looked at with renewed interest, CIAB's report said.   Meanwhile, it was another story altogether for coastal exposures, according to CIAB's respondents, with wind, flood and property capacity still tight, deductibles and exclusions on the rise. Some carriers are expanding their definition of coastal property to business within 60-70 miles of the seacoast and categorizing areas such as the Chesapeake Bay as coastal.   Any catastrophe-prone property was likely to experience difficulty securing coverage, CIAB reports the brokers and agents said, with premium levels at historic highs. Although the problems appeared to be the worst in Florida and along the Southeast coast, one respondent reported commercial earthquake rates up as high as 50 to 150% in Southern California.   For complete regional and national data charts, go to www.ciab.com/marketsurveyQ306.

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