from the publisher of reinsurance and fac magazines

« More soft market stuff | « Main | Just like 2005 all over again »

Why trust one market and not another?

I was going to say that the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund news has dominated the headlines since we last spoke.

But that wouldn’t be strictly true, would it?

The newsflow on this weighty subject has come wedged in between the arrests at PWS International brokers in London by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office, news of the launch of not one, but two insurance-linked futures contracts on recognised global exchanges, as well as the Bermudians’ annual results season and a slew of market and individual company estimates for the financial impact of winter storm Kyrill.

No rest for us wicked reinsurance journalists.

Well, Governor Crist, the news storm may have been over, but now that the headlines have changed, you’re truly on your own, at the mercy of the elements.

I know you only want the best for your people and affordable insurance premiums are a big part of that, but there is a line that has to be drawn between optimism and hope for a better future and wilful ignorance of a problem that is staring you and the people of Florida in the faces.

Yes, it’s a problem — but it’s not an insurmountable one — it’s quite simple really. Your 7 million households have cost insurers about $36bn over the last 3 years. Let’s call that a straight $5,000 a head. You think insurers were trying to recoup that loss too quickly because of cost being loaded on them in turn by the largely offshore reinsurance industry. So you called the Bermudians’ bluff and stepped in to bring relief to the insurers on condition that they pass the saving on to consumers. If the big one hits, you’ll pay through bond issuance and insurance levies.

But it’s not that simple is it? If you had to go out into the bond market and raise that kind of cash in a hurry, you’d have to pay a chunk of tasty yield, wouldn’t you?

Your triple-AAA rating might be under threat if half of Miami’s business district were destroyed, tourists were staying away and tax receipts were plummeting. You’d have to offer a little bit of a premium to get bond investors interested, and let me see, if you’re a bit strapped for income you’d probably have to place the bonds with expiry dates over a fairly long-timeframe, say 20 years.

Now get out your calculator and you’ll find that even paying a coupon of only 5.5% if you borrow $36bn over 20 years, you’ll be paying the same again in interest. Five grand per house becomes ten.

And these are US Federal dollars, not Floridian ones — even if you wanted to succumb to the temptation of simply printing more notes to pay off your debt, you couldn’t.

And what makes you think the freewheeling international bond market is going to behave reasonably rationally and charitably when the reinsurance market has already been burned and not allowed to set its own prices? Why trust one market and not another?

Maynard Keynes – heard of that guy? He is a famous old British economist of the early twentieth century, long since departed and now largely discredited. (Perhaps a little unfairly — his economic theories are often blamed for the failed inflationary experiments of the 1960s and 1970s).

Anyway, Mr Keynes famously once said that markets can stay irrational a lot longer than most people can stay solvent. Well said sir! But I would have to add that it has been proven throughout history that most politicians can stay irrational a lot longer than their countries can stay solvent!

Just ask any citizen of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Zimbabwe (insert economic basket du jour here) or anyone who lived in the UK in the 1970s if you have any doubts.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

"Welcome to the reinsurance industry’s first dedicated blog!
This is your chance to tell me exactly
what you think of my opinions and voice your thoughts on the issues driving our industry. Make sure you bookmark my blog today!"
Mark Geoghegan