Lloyd's of London estimated that claims related to Hurricane Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans could cost it $2.55 billion, reinforcing expectations that insurers worldwide will push prices up next year to recover some of their huge losses.
Lloyd's estimate of its losses would make Katrina the second-most-expensive disaster ever in nominal terms for the Lloyd's insurance market, whose members paid out about $3.5 billion for the terrorist attacks in New York in 2001. It also tops all other insurance groups' estimates of their individual exposure to Katrina claims so far. Lloyd's functions as a marketplace for syndicates that underwrite insurance policies.
Lloyd's said conclusive data on how much the insurance market would have to pay out on Katrina wouldn't be available for some time. But it said yesterday that, based on current information, it didn't think the disaster would push any of the 62 syndicates that operate through Lloyd's out of business. It also said it didn't think any Lloyd's syndicates would have to make a material claim on Lloyd's $2 billion bailout fund for its members.
Katrina could cost the worldwide insurance industry as much as $60 billion, according to some industry estimates. Large European insurers often find themselves liable for insurance claims incurred by distant hurricanes such as Katrina, because they provide reinsurance to the direct insurers who sell home, automobile, industrial or life policies in disaster zones.
The estimated $2.55 billion that Lloyd's syndicates could end up paying would be split evenly between claims by individual policyholders who bought coverage directly on the Lloyd's market and claims from U.S. insurance companies that reinsured their risks through Lloyd's, spokesman Nick Gammage said. Adding to the complexity of the market, Lloyd's also sells reinsurance coverage to the reinsurance groups themselves, giving it three potential levels of exposure. Gammage said a detailed breakdown of Lloyd's exposure wasn't yet available.
Other European reinsurers, notably Swiss Re of Zurich and Munich Re have also said recently that their liability for Katrina-related damage would be high. Swiss Re has estimated its maximum loss could be $1.2 billion, and Munich Re has said its initial estimate of about $500 million in losses could increase as more information comes in.
A number of Bermuda-based reinsurance groups, which are smaller than the large European companies but tend to be more focused on natural-catastrophe insurance, are also likely to face big losses. XL Capital Ltd. said Tuesday that its losses could amount to about 1.75 percent of the total industry losses. That would represent a loss of about $1.05 billion based on an industry total of $60 billion.
Insurance brokers said the size of the reinsurers' exposure means that it is almost inevitable that reinsurers will try to raise the prices they charge the direct insurers. "In the light of these numbers, there'll be upward pressure on prices in many areas, especially property catastrophe coverage, energy and large [industrial] risks," said Geoffrey Bromley, chairman of non-U.S. activities at reinsurance brokerage firm Guy Carpenter & Co.
Rating agency Standard & Poor's said this week that Katrina is unlikely to impair the Lloyd's market's solvency. An S&P spokeswoman said yesterday that the agency's analysts wouldn't comment on Lloyd's initial estimate.