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US property insurance 2008 rates seen flat to soft

NEW YORK, Nov 15 (Reuters) - U.S. property and casualty insurance premiums will either decline or stay flat versus this year’s levels in 2008, a consulting firm said on Thursday, allowing drivers and homeowners to get good deals from their carriers.

“Strong competition is forcing insurers to lower their premiums or, at the very least, hold them stable,” said Orin Linden, who runs Watson Wyatt’s insurance and financial services consulting group in New York. “It’s clearly a buyer’s market.”

Rates for casualty insurance, which covers businesses and individuals against legal losses, may decline as much as 5 percent to 10 percent next year, said Watson Wyatt, which provides statistical information to businesses worldwide.

Rates for property insurance coverage will be mostly flat, although some buyers may see a slight reduction.

Rates have declined in each of the last few years for both property and casualty insurance coverage because of strong profits throughout the industry, Watson Wyatt said.

Property damages from catastrophes such as hurricanes have also gone down since 2005, when the industry suffered nearly $70 billion in losses from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

Other types of insurance, including workers’ compensation, directors’ and officers’ liability, and reinsurance are also expected to experience soft market conditions, Watson Wyatt said. (Reporting by Ed Leefeldt; Editing by Braden Reddall)