September 21, 2017 / 4:49 PM / 2 months ago

Global reinsurers rocked by storms and quakes

FRANKFURT/BERLIN (Reuters) - A profit warning from one of the world’s largest reinsurers is the latest sign that the death and destruction from a spate of hurricanes and earthquakes in North America are now taking a toll on the titans of global finance.

German reinsurer Hannover Re (HNRGn.DE) said it could miss its 2017 profit target because of claims from the natural disasters, its first such warning since the 2008 financial crisis.

Thursday’s warning follows a similar announcement from German rival Munich Re (MUVGn.DE) last week, which was the first major reinsurer to flag a hit to earnings from hurricanes Harvey and Irma..

Munich Re last issued such a warning in 2011 after losses from an earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a spokeswoman said.

Hannover Re’s statement came as Hurricane Maria was on its way to the Dominican Republic after pummeling Puerto Rico and as rescue workers in Mexico were searching for survivors after an earthquake this week killed more than 200.

Reinsurers, which are in the business of insuring insurance, are experts in managing risk and only rarely get caught off guard. Analysts say that reinsurers may need to take a fresh look at their risk models as the planet warms and storms become more intense.

RISK MODELS CHALLENGED

Modelers will usually evaluate whether they need to change some of their assumptions if such storms behave in an unexpected way, said Antonello Aquino, who studies the insurance sector for ratings agency Moody‘s.

Analysts have estimated that this year’s total damage could exceed that caused by Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005. Munich Re says that Katrina resulted in $74 billion in insured losses for the global industry.

Insured losses from Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Irma in the Caribbean and Florida, as well losses from another Mexico earthquake in early September, could be as high as $61 billion, according to a Reuters calculation of estimates provided by Air Worldwide.

The tally does not include losses from Hurricane Maria or this week’s Mexico quake. Disruption of business from Harvey could also lift the total.

Hurricane season in the Atlantic is still in full swing and Morgan Stanley said it expects overall insured losses from this year’s catastrophes could approach $100 billion.

Air Worldwide will publish a preliminary estimate of losses for Maria late Thursday or on Friday, a spokesman said.

Swiss Re (SRENH.S) and French reinsurer Scor (SCOR.PA) both said on Thursday that it is too early to say how recent disasters would affect their companies.

“It will take weeks before we have a sense of where we are,” Swiss Re CEO Christian Mumenthaler said last week.

Primary insurers on the front lines of insuring consumers are also warning about profits.

CATASTROPHE BONDS

Germany’s Talanx (TLXGn.DE), parent to Hannover Re, also issued a profit warning on Thursday, saying that the additional losses arising from Hurricane Maria and the most recent earthquake in Mexico will push the hit beyond its loss budget for reinsurance and industrial insurance for the first nine months of the year.

Investors in so-called catastrophe bonds, an increasingly important part of the insurance market, are also taking a hit.

On Thursday Bermuda-based Markel CATCo Investment Management warned its investors that recent losses have “the potential to fully erode annual returns, or more, for 2017”.

The extent of damage and continuation of storms has taken the industry off guard, dealing a heavy blow to a sector already struggling with thin margins, stiff competition and falling prices.

However, executives at an industry conference in Monte Carlo last week were in stoic mood, saying they could easily absorb the losses, and analysts say that losses are unlikely to hit the capital base of companies to an extent that would lift slumping insurance prices or damage credit ratings.

Reporting by Maria Sheahan in Berlin, Tom Sims in Frankfurt and Carolyn Cohn in London; Additional reporting by Maya Nikolaeva in Paris and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi in Zurich; Editing by David Goodman

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