ZURICH (Reuters) - A rise in insurance premiums, especially in areas affected by recent hurricanes and disasters, will help Swiss Re (SRENH.S) recover from almost half a billion dollars of losses in the first nine months of this year, it said on Thursday.
“We expect those programs that have been hit by losses to clearly respond in a significant fashion,” Chief Financial Officer David Cole told Reuters on Thursday. “Rate increases up to 50 percent in that regard would not be surprising.”
The world’s second-largest reinsurer joined a chorus of insurers and reinsurers looking to rate rises as a reprieve from years of falling prices, after what looks set to be their most costly quarter on record.
Swiss Re did not release figures for the third quarter - for which it estimated claims from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in the United States and from two earthquakes in Mexico at roughly $3.6 billion - but nine-month figures implied a loss of around $1.7 billion from July through September.
That compares with a quarterly loss of 1.4 billion euros ($1.6 billion) that German rival Munich Re (MUVGn.DE) has said it expects to post on Nov. 9.
Swiss Re and other reinsurers act as financial backstops for insurance companies, helping them cover the cost of claims from natural and man-made disasters.
Despite hurting profits, higher catastrophe costs can ease pressure on pricing in reinsurance markets.
The industry, which derives a portion of earnings directly from premiums when these exceed loss payouts and another from investments on the huge sums of capital reinsurers must hold, has been squeezed for years by falling industry prices coupled with low interest rates.
“It’s our very strong belief that the same factors that have led to changes in pricing cycles in the past will once again be very clear and lead to a change in the pricing environment here,” Cole said.
Last month, Hannover Re (HNRGn.DE) Chief Executive Ulrich Wallin said prices could rise 40 to 50 percent in regions hit by disasters, and 5 percent elsewhere.
A turnaround in prices would be the first major reversal since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
Swiss Re said it would proceed with a proposed share buyback of up to 1 billion Swiss francs ($1.00 billion), which will start on Friday, adding it was able to absorb the losses and maintain financial flexibility due to strong capitalization.
Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Michael Shields and Mark Potter