Tag Archives: US wind perils

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.

Thoughts on ILS Pricing

Valuations in the specialty insurance and reinsurance sector have been given a bump up with all of the M&A activity and the on-going speculation about who will be next. The Artemis website reported this week that Deutsche Bank believe the market is not differentiating enough between firms and that even with a lower cost of capital some are over-valued, particularly when lower market prices and the relaxation in terms and conditions are taken into account. Although subject to hyperbole, industry veteran John Charman now running Endurance, stated in a recent interview that market conditions in reinsurance are the most “brutal” he has seen in his 44 year career.

One interesting development is the re-emergence of Richard Brindle with a new hybrid hedge fund type $2 billion firm, as per this Bloomberg article. Given the money Brindle made out of Lancashire, I am surprised that he is coming back with a business plan that looks more like a jump onto the convergence hedge fund reinsurer band wagon than anything more substantive given current market conditions. Maybe he has nothing to lose and is bored! It will be interesting to see how that one develops.

There have been noises coming out of the market that insurance linked securities (ILS) pricing has reached a floor. Given that the Florida wind exposure is ground zero for the ILS market, I had a look through some of the deals on the Artemis website, to see what pricing was like. The graph below does only have a small number of data points covering different deal structures so any conclusions have to be tempered. Nonetheless, it does suggest that rate reductions are at least slowing in 2015.

click to enlargeFlorida ILS Pricing

Any review of ILS pricing, particularly for US wind perils, should be seen in the context of a run of low storm recent activity in the US for category 3 or above. In their Q3-2014 call, Renaissance Re commented (as Eddie pointed out in the comments to this post) that the probability of a category 3 or above not making landfall in the past 9 years is statistically at a level below 1%. The graph below shows some wind and earthquake pricing by vintage (the quake deals tend to be the lower priced ones).

click to enlargeWind & Quake ILS Pricing by year

This graph does suggest that a floor has been reached but doesn’t exactly inspire any massive confidence that pricing in recent deals is any more adequate than that achieved in 2014.

From looking through the statistics on the Artemis website, I thought that a comparison to corporate bond spreads would be interesting. In general (and again generalities temper the validity of conclusions), ILS public catastrophe bonds are rated around BB so I compared the historical spreads of BB corporate against the average ILS spreads, as per the graph below.

click to enlargeILS Spreads vrs BB Corporate Spread

The graph shows that the spreads are moving in the same direction in the current environment. Of course, it’s important to remember that the price of risk is cheap across many asset classes as a direct result of the current monetary policy across the developed world of stimulating economic activity through encouraging risk taking.

Comparing spreads in themselves has its limitation as the underlying exposure in the deals is also changing. Artemis uses a metric for ILS that divides the spread by the expected loss, referred to herein as the ILS multiple. The expected loss in ILS deals is based upon the catastrophe modeller’s catalogue of hurricane and earthquake events which are closely aligned to the historical data of known events. To get a similar statistic to the ILS multiple for corporate bonds, I divided the BB spreads by the 20 year average of historical default rates from 1995 to 2014 for BB corporate risks. The historical multiples are in the graph below.

click to enlargeILS vrs BB Corporate Multiples

Accepting that any conclusions from the graph above needs to consider the assumptions made and their limitations, the trends in multiples suggests that investors risk appetite in the ILS space is now more aggressive than that in the corporate bond space. Now that’s a frightening thought.

Cheap risk premia never ends well and no fancy new hybrid business model can get around that reality.

Follow-up: Lane Financial LLC has a sector report out with some interesting statistics. One comment that catch my eye is that they estimate a well spread portfolio by a property catastrophic reinsurer who holds capital at a 1-in-100 and a 1-in-250 level would only achieve a ROE of 8% and 6.8% respectively at todays ILS prices compared to a ROE of 18% and 13.3% in 2012. They question “the sustainability of the independent catastrophe reinsurer” in this pricing environment and offer it as an explanation “why we have begun to see mergers and acquisitions, not between two pure catastrophe reinsurers but with cat writers partnering with multi-lines writers“.