Jan 13 (The following statement was released by the rating agency)
Fitch Ratings says in a new report that current low bond yields are not an immediate threat to the ratings of European insurers. In the UK, France and the Netherlands, insurers' investment guarantees to policyholders are either well matched by backing assets or not particularly onerous. In Germany, although there are significant unmatched guarantees, insurers typically have sufficient running yield to cover these for more than 10 years, even if bond yields remain low. Moreover, Fitch's base-case expectation is for a slow and steady rise in yields, which is close to a best-case scenario for many insurers.
For life insurers, low yields generally make it harder to meet investment guarantees on existing savings contracts and to offer guarantees that are attractive to new customers. This puts pressure on earnings and, in serious cases, may erode capital. Low or falling bond yields can be particularly detrimental for insurers that write regular-premium contracts with long-term investment guarantees. This is because they have to invest future premiums and asset proceeds at lower yields than they expected when they priced the contracts. Low yields also have an adverse effect on non-life insurers, particularly those that rely on investment returns to compensate for weak underwriting results.
Many insurers disclose how changes in interest rates would affect their capital and embedded value. Fitch makes use of the sensitivities provided by insurers to assess their relative exposure to interest-rate risk.
Insurers can alleviate the effects of low bond yields by reducing policyholder bonuses; improving asset-liability management; re-designing, re-pricing or withdrawing certain products; and potentially by seeking extra yield from alternative assets.
The report "Insurers Have Flexibility to Counteract Low Bond Yields" is available at www.fitchratings.com.
Separately, Fitch is holding insurance roadshows in Amsterdam, Paris, London and Frankfurt in January. There will be presentations on European life and non-life insurance markets, the global reinsurance market, Fitch's rating methodology for insurers and the areas of focus in 2014 for the agency's Insurance group.
Attendance is free but pre-registration is required via the following links:
Fitch Insurance Roadshow 2014 - Amsterdam, 21 January
Fitch Insurance Roadshow 2014 - Paris, 22 January
Fitch Insurance Roadshow 2014 - London, 24 January
Fitch Insurance Roadshow 2014 - Frankfurt, 29 January
Link to Fitch Ratings' Report: Insurers Have Flexibility to Counteract Low Bond Yields