Tag Archives: hybrid capital

The Big Wind

With four US hurricanes and one earthquake in current times, mother nature is reminding us homo-sapiens of her power and her unpredictability. As the massive Hurricane Irma is about to hit Florida, we all hope that the loss of life and damage to people’s lives will be minimal and that the coming days will prove humane. Forgive me if it comes across as insensitive to be posting now on the likely impact of such events on the insurance industry.

For the insurance sector, these events, and particularly Hurricane Irma which is now forecast to move up the west coast of Florida at strength (rather the more destruction path of up the middle of Florida given the maximum forces at the top right-hand side of a hurricane like this one), may be a test on the predictive powers of its models which are so critical to pricing, particularly in the insurance linked securities (ILS) market.

Many commentators, including me (here, here and here are recent examples), have expressed worries in recent years about current market conditions in the specialty insurance, reinsurance and ILS sectors. On Wednesday, Willis Re reported that they estimate their subset of firms analysed are only earning a 3.7% ROE if losses are normalised and reserve releases dried up. David Rule of the Prudential Regulatory Authority in the UK recently stated that London market insurers “appear to be incorporating a more benign view of future losses into their technical pricing”, terms and conditions continued to loosen, reliance on untested new coverages such as cyber insurance is increasing and that insurers “may be too sanguine about catastrophe risks, such as significant weather events”.

With the reinsurance and specialty insurance sectors struggling to meet their cost of capital and pricing terms and conditions being so weak for so long (see this post on the impact of soft pricing on risk profiles), if Hurricane Irma impacts Florida as predicted (i.e. on Saturday) it has the potential to be a capital event for the catastrophe insurance sector rather than just an earnings event. On Friday, Lex in the FT reported that the South-East US makes up 60% of the exposures of the catastrophe insurance market.

The models utilised in the sector are more variable in their output as events get bigger in their impact (e.g. the higher the return period). A 2013 post on the variation in loss estimates from a selected portfolio of standard insurance coverage by the Florida Commission on Hurricane Loss Projection Methodology (FCHLPM) illustrates the point and one of the graphs from that post is reproduced below.

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Based upon the most recent South-East US probable maximum losses (PML) and Atlantic hurricane scenarios from a group of 12 specialty insurers and reinsurers I selected, the graph below shows the net losses by return periods as a percentage of each firm’s net tangible assets. This graph does not consider the impact of hybrid or subordinate debt that may absorb losses before the firm’s capital. I have extrapolated many of these curves based upon industry data on US South-East exceedance curves and judgement on firm’s exposures (and for that reason I anonymised the firms).

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The results of my analysis confirm that specialty insurers and reinsurers, in aggregate, have reduced their South-East US exposures in recent years when I compare average figures to S&P 2014 data (by about 15% for the 1 in 100 return period). Expressed as a net loss ratio, the average for a 1 in 100  and a 1 in 250 return period respectively is 15% and 22%. These figures do look low for events with characteristics of these return periods (the average net loss ratio of the 12 firms from catastrophic events in 2005 and 2011 was 22% and 25% respectively) so it will be fascinating to see what the actual figures are, depending upon how Hurricane Irma pans out. Many firms are utilising their experience and risk management prowess to transfer risks through collaterised reinsurance and retrocession (i.e. reinsurance of reinsurers) to naïve capital market ILS investors.

If the models are correct and maximum losses are around the 1 in 100 return period estimates for Hurricane Irma, well capitalized and managed catastrophe exposed insurers should trade through recent and current events. We will see if the models pass this test. For example, demand surge (whereby labour and building costs increase following a catastrophic event due to overwhelming demand and fixed supply) is a common feature of widespread windstorm damage and is a feature in models (it is one of those inputs that underwriters can play with in soft markets!). Well here’s a thought – could Trump’s immigration policy be a factor in the level of demand surge in Florida and Texas?

The ILS sector is another matter however in my view due to the rapid growth of the private and unregulated collateralised reinsurance and retrocession markets to satisfy the demand for product supply from ILS funds and yield seeking investors. The prevalence of aggregate covers and increased expected loss attachments in the private ILS market resembles features of previous soft and overheated retrocession markets (generally before a crash) in bygone years. I have expressed my concerns on this market many times (more recently here). Hurricane Irma has the potential to really test underwriting standards across the ILS sector. The graph below from Lane Financial LLC on the historical pricing of US military insurer USAA’s senior catastrophe bonds again illustrates how the market has taken on more risk for less risk adjusted premium (exposures include retired military personnel living in Florida).

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The events in the coming days may tell us, to paraphrase Mr Buffet, who has been swimming naked or as Lex put it on Friday, “this weekend may be a moment when the search for uncorrelated returns bumps hard into acts of God”.

Hopefully, all parts of the catastrophe insurance sector will prove their worth by speedily indemnifying peoples’ material losses (nothing can indemnify the loss of life). After all, that’s its function and economic utility to society. Longer term, recent events may also lead to more debate and real action been taken to ensure that the insurance sector, in all its guises, can have an increased economic function and relevance in an increasingly uncertain world, in insuring perils such as floods for example (and avoiding the ridiculous political interference in risk transfer markets that has made the financial impact of flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Texas so severe).

Notwithstanding the insurance sector, our thoughts must be with the people who will suffer from nature’s recent wrath and our prayers are with all of those negatively affected now and in the future.

Relative valuations of selected reinsurers and wholesale insurers

It’s been a great 12 months for wholesale insurers with most seeing their share price rise by 20%+, some over 40%. As would be expected, there has been some correlation between the rise in book values and the share price increase although market sentiment to the sector and the overall market rally have undoubtedly also played their parts. The graph below shows the movements over the past 12 months (click to enlarge).

12 month share price change selected reinsurers March 2013The price to tangible book is one of my preferred indicators of value although it has limitations when comparing companies reporting under differing accounting standards & currencies and trading in different exchanges. The P/TBV valuations as at last weekend are depicted in the graph below. The comments in this post are purely made on the basis of the P/TBV metric calculated from published data and readers are encouraged to dig deeper.

I tend to look at the companies relative to each other in 4 broad buckets – the London market firms, the continental European composite reinsurers, the US/Bermuda firms, and the alternative asset or “wannabe buffet” firms.  Comparisons across buckets can be made but adjustments need to be made for factors such as those outlined in the previous paragraph. Some firms such as Lancashire actually report in US$ as that is where the majority of their business is but trade in London with sterling shares. I also like to look at the relative historical movements over time & the other graph below from March 2011 helps in that regard.

Valuations as at March 2013 (click to enlarge):

Price to net tangible book & 5 year average ROE reinsurers March 2013

Valuations as at March 2011 (click to enlarge):

Price to net tangible book & 5 year average ROE reinsurers March 2011 The London market historically trades at the highest multiples – Hiscox, Amlin, & Lancashire are amongst the leaders, with Catlin been the poor cousin. Catlin’s 2012 operating results were not as strong as the others but the discount it currently trades at may be a tad unfair. In the interest of open disclosure, I must admit to having a soft spot for Lancashire. Their consistent shareholder friendly actions result in the high historical valuation. These actions and a clear communication of their straight forward business strategy shouldn’t distract investors from their high risk profile. The cheeky way they present their occurrence PMLs in public disclosures cannot hide their high CAT exposures when the occurrence PMLs are compared to their peers on a % of tangible asset basis. Their current position relative to Hiscox and Amlin may be reflective of this (although they tend to go down when ex dividend, usually a special dividend!).

Within the continental European composite reinsurer bucket, the Munich and Swiss, amongst others, classify chunky amounts of present value of future profits from their life business as an intangible. As this item will be treated as capital under Solvency II, further metrics need to be considered when looking at these composite reinsurers. The love of the continental Europeans of hybrid capital and the ability to compare the characteristics of the varying instruments is another factor that will become clearer in a Solvency II world. Compared to 2011 valuations Swiss Re has been a clear winner. It is arguable that the Munich deserves a premium given it’s position in the sector.

The striking thing about the current valuations of the US/Bermudian bucket is how concentrated they are, particularly when compared to 2011. The market seems to be making little distinction between the large reinsurers like Everest and the likes of Platinum & Montpelier. That is surely a failure of these companies to distinguish themselves and effectively communicate their differing business models & risk profiles.

The last bucket is the most eccentric. I would class firms such as Fairfax  in this bucket. Although each firm has its own twist, generally these companies are interested in the insurance business as the provider of cheap “float”, a la Mr Buffet, with the focus going into the asset side. Generally, their operating results are poorer than their peers and they have a liking for the longer tail business if the smell of the float is attractive enough (which is difficult with today’s interest rate). This bucket really needs to be viewed through different metrics which we’ll leave for another day.

Overall then, the current valuations reflect an improved sentiment on the sector. Notwithstanding the musings above, nothing earth shattering stands out based solely on a P/TBV analysis.  The ridiculously low valuations of the past 36 months aren’t there anymore. My enthusiasm for the sector is tempered by the macro-economic headwinds, the overall run-up in the market (a pull-back smells inevitable), and the unknown impact upon the sector of the current supply distortions from yield seeking capital market players entering the market.