from the publisher of reinsurance and fac magazines

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Tasty morsels on the tide

Dear friend,

Some weeks we just let the news wash over us like seawater over an anemone’s tentacles.

We cling to our rock and wait for juicy morsels to flow past.

We dart out an arm and grab what’s on offer and bring it in for delectation and digestion.

Sometimes it’s a tasty meal that we dine in on for months, but other times it’s just an empty bit of flotsam that we spit out in disgust.

What did the warm tides drift our way in the last seven days?

Well, it seems that when the chips are down you call a (re)insurance exec to help you out of trouble.

Over here in the UK we have been having a very British banking crisis involving Northern Rock, a provincial mortgage lender that got in a cashflow muddle because of over reliance on borrowing short to lend long.

For reasons only known to politicians, instead of letting nature take its course, allowing the bank to fail, divvying up its considerable assets and moving on, our government first propped up the lender with billions in emergency loans and now has decided to nationalise the stricken bank.

So you’ve bought a failing bank. Who are you gonna call to head up your new-found state asset? Ron Sandler of Lloyd’s R&R fame of course! Come on down Ron!

And interestingly Ron has hired Ann Godbehere, formerly group CFO of Swiss Re to be his right-hand woman.

How delicious the irony. For the last few years we’ve had to endure endless lectures from bankers about how we reinsurance laggards just don’t get it with this harnessing the capital markets wheeze.

How they cajoled our wasteful use of capital and how they urged us to pack up our risk and ship it out the back door to the buoyant and benevolent world of the bond markets.

“Look at us!” They shouted, from their open-topped sports cars “We’re the future and you are slow and stupid! Why can’t you be more like us?”

And how dumb they look now their markets are dry and some have been found swimming without a bathing costume.

Sometimes you just can’t beat good old cash.

And when the chips are down it also seems you can’t beat a bit of (re)insurance expertise to help your bank out of multi-billion trouble!

Enough gloating.

Yesterday another tasty morsel floated our way in the nether reaches of Montpelier’s results.

It seems the international property market is chewing on about $1.5-2bn in big-ticket mining, energy and steel industry losses so far this year (see below for the full details).

Not bad for 53 days on risk is it? Only another 313 to go.

It never rains but it pours. The international property market has been death-defyingly soft of late with rates tumbling and a conditions bonfire in full swing.

One market friend of Fac magazine told me that it always seems to be the way with markets — you never get the big, big losses when the market is hardening — only when everyone is slashing prices.

He even thinks this little tickle might be enough to stop the rate cutting in its tracks and turn the market around.

I disagree with him – I think you only get rate rises when meaningful capacity is retired, impaired or withdrawn. And we haven’t seen anything of the sort yet.

At this stage in the cycle, just after reporting record results, people tend to see big losses as new underwriting opportunities, rather than home wreakers.

Later on they’ll get depressed and despondent — but give it at least another three years.

But what do I know?

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