While the new year typically brings with it a sweep of optimism, there also is the specter of past year to reflect upon. To that end, Guy Carpenter & Co. LLC released a briefing today noting that reinsurance rates across most lines of property catastrophe business declined at the Jan. 1, 2010 renewal.

Guy Carpenter’s World Catastrophe Rate on Line Index declined by 6% at the Jan. 1, 2010 renewal, as the reinsurance market recovered and swiftly recapitalized in the wake of the global financial crisis and large reduction in catastrophe losses.

American reinsurance rates declined from 6% to 11% on average, however, rates in the tornado- and hail-prone Midwest proved an exception to the downward trend.

The report, "Rates Retreat as Capital Rebounds: Global Reinsurance Renewals at January 1, 2010," covers regional developments as well as key influences and trends, such as catastrophe bonds and mergers and acquisitions activity.

Chris Klein, global head of Business Intelligence at Guy Carpenter, said the current reinsurance marketplace is competitive and strong but the environment heading into the new year is not without its challenges. “A combination of factors—including the rally in global financial markets, relatively low catastrophe losses in 2009 and lingering recessionary effects on demand—has resulted in an excess of supply and heightened competition at this year’s January 1 renewal. As a result, what we saw was an unusually slow renewal, in which a number of contracts did not close until very late in the season, as buyers sought to gain maximum pricing advantage.”

“As we move into 2010," Klein added, "it’s safe to say that the property/casualty reinsurance market has weathered the global financial crisis and emerged in a relatively strong position, with abundant capital and ample capacity for most lines of business. At the same time, the environment in which reinsurers operate will continue to be influenced by global economic conditions as much as underwriting decisions, and these macroeconomic factors will continue to warrant close attention.”

Highlights of the report include:

U.S. Property Catastrophe

Risk-adjusted catastrophe prices in the U.S. decreased by an average of 6%, though the picture is somewhat complicated by recent adjustments to catastrophe models that have decreased predicted losses for earthquake and wind perils. Factoring in modelling adjustments, rates declined by as much as 11% on average.

The significant exception to the general downward trend in pricing is programs with significant tornado/hail exposure in the middle of the U.S. Many of these programs sustained losses in 2009, and as margins traditionally have been very competitive, pricing has adjusted upward in response to the loss activity.

European Property Catastrophe

Catastrophe pricing in Continental Europe was flat to 5% lower despite a number of localized losses in a year of above-average weather-related events.

Windstorm Klaus, which hit France and Spain in January, was the region’s most severe weather event, causing first-layer prices of programs in France to rise by 10% on average. Overall, weather-related catastrophe activity in Europe was above average.

Austria’s severe hailstorms led to a fourth successive year of frequency losses that resulted in restricted capacity and price increases of up to 20% to 30%.

UK Property Catastrophe

UK property catastrophe rates declined between 5% and 10%, while risk excess prices were flat to down 15%, subject to loss experience.

The UK continues to be an attractive market to reinsurers due to its profitability over time. Though UK property catastrophe supply tends to be finite, a number of new markets entered to supply fresh capacity.

Retrocession

Treaty retrocession saw a modest increase in capacity, as two new underwriters in the Lloyd’s and Bermuda markets entered the market, while a number of existing underwriters showed an increased appetite.

Primarily because of satisfactory capacity and changes to the catastrophe models, industry loss warranty prices fell by as much as 30%, though there were few major purchases due to the focus on ultimate net loss placements by clients.

Several potential new suppliers are poised to enter the market should a large loss turn pricing significantly.

Casualty

Rates for U.S. casualty lines were flat to down 10% over the past two renewal cycles. Some pockets of resistance existed, with rates for financial institutions professional indemnity, particularly in London, showing single digit increases.

In Europe, motor liability reinsurance rates continued to experience flat to 10% increases on working excess layers, depending on experience. Underlying concerns about increases in loss cost projections, due principally to medical care inflation, have been offset by the wide availability of excess reinsurance capacity.

Underlying insurance rates for product liability are largely unchanged, but the effect of the recession has reduced turnover in most sectors except pharmaceuticals and medical devices, which in turn impacted reinsurance revenues on the main commercial/industrial liability placements.

Aviation & Marine

Rate changes for aviation risks were essentially flat. Increases were largely dependent on size of loss, exposure changes and overall program premium banks.

Some aviation sectors (such as commercial helicopters) faced increases following a spate of losses, while others (such as good-quality corporate aircraft risks) continued to see reductions.

Marine rates were down by an average of 5%. Capacity is growing and ample, with widespread price-cutting, particularly for non-Gulf of Mexico business. Absent any significant losses, downward pressure on marine rates is expected to continue into 2010.   

Other Key Trends and Influences

Eighteen new catastrophe bond issues came to market in 2009, easily exceeding the 10 issues reported in 2008. The cat bond market will continue to provide an increasingly attractive and worthwhile supplement to sponsors’ risk transfer programs in 2010.

Mergers and acquisition activity—both tactical and strategic—regained some momentum in 2009, as insurers turned to the capital markets to address a wide range of strategic and tactical needs.

Macroeconomic trends exerted a substantial effect on reinsurance capital and pricing, with asset-side movements and investment returns the greatest drivers of sector profitability and capital adequacy in 2009.

Since 2005 most carriers’ earnings have been enhanced by reserve releases, particularly in accident years.  This trend is not expected to continue, however, and a number of indicators point to a declining benefit from reserve releases in the future.

Inflation could become an issue over the longer term, particularly for longer-tail writers whose premiums written today may be less able to cover inflated claims in the future.

The report and downloadable charts are available here.

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