Insurers suffer record catastrophe losses

/ Source: The Associated Press

The property insurance industry sustained record third-quarter losses this year after a series of storms, including a string of hurricanes, according to an actuarial firm's preliminary estimate.

Eight catastrophes, including hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, contributed to $21.3 billion in insured property loss claims, according to New Jersey-based ISO. That figure compares to $3.7 billion from last year's third quarter, $715 million in the third-quarter 2002 and $19.15 billion in the third-quarter 2001 — the previous record, which included $18.8 billion in insured property losses from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

For the first nine months of 2004, insured losses stand at $24.7 billion, second only to the $26.1 billion from the first nine months in 2001. Last year, insurers lost $10.2 billion in the first nine months.

This year's four major hurricanes together accounted for an estimated $20.5 billion — just over the $20.3 billion loss caused by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, in inflation-adjusted terms, ISO spokesman Dave Dasgupta said.

Catastrophes were more frequent and more focused this year than usual, with many storms following similar paths, Dasgupta added.

"It's very unusual — in not many instances do you have back-to-back hurricanes like this," he said.

Florida suffered the most insured losses at $17.5 billion, while Alabama incurred $1.2 billion and Georgia sustained $445 million.

The four hurricanes together account for a huge hit to insurance companies, surpassed only by the $32 billion in total losses due the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Jeanne Salvatore, vice president of consumer affairs at the Insurance Information Institute.

Fortunately for consumers, there have been very few insurance company insolvencies, indicating that the market will remain strong, said Joseph Annotti, vice president of public affairs at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

Insurance rates in Florida may climb and companies might need to re-examine their pricing structures, but "unlike after Andrew, there will be no exodus of insurers leaving the state," Annotti said.

ISO defines catastrophes as events causing at least $25 million in insured property losses to a significant number of insurers and policyholders.

ISO's property claim services unit estimates insured losses based on actual claims from the insurance industry. The estimates exclude loss adjustment expenses.