Canadian Underwriter

Insurers update numbers from terrorist attacks while liability debate looms

September 20, 2001   by Canadian Underwriter

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More than a week after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, insurers and reinsurers are still trying to tally exposures. Munich Re, amongst the hardest hit, estimates losses could reach US$1.95 billion pretax, the largest single loss in the company’s history. Swiss Re now predicts its losses will reach US$1.25 billion, two-thirds of its year 2000 profit. Berkshire Hathaway, parent company of General Re, is estimated to hold 3-5% of the exposure, and now says it will be on the tab for US$2.2 billion pretax. Scor Re has confirmed its earlier estimate of US$150-250 million in losses.
St. Paul has provisionally pegged its losses at US$700 million pretax, based on industry-wide loss estimates of US$30-35 billion. The company suffered a public relations nightmare shortly after the attacks, when it placed a ban on issuing policies in New York. The company has since reversed the decision and apologized for the decision.
FM Global has put a preliminary number to it losses, at US$250 million pretax and after reinsurance considerations. The company notes that while it did not insure the World Trade Center buildings, it will be dealing with claims from several buildings in the vicinity of the attacks. Chubb has re-figured its losses at US$500-600 million pretax, net of reinsurance. The company estimates this will lower earnings per share between $1.85 and $2.25, resulting in probable 2001 earnings per share of $1.60 to $2.35. Chubb’s earlier estimates had included only its property exposures, while the revised figures include all exposures. Liberty Mutual expects after-tax losses in the range of US$200-300 million, which will include workers’ compensation, commercial property, business interruption, commercial auto, general liability, personal auto, homeowners and life insurance claims.
Several companies, including St. Paul, Chubb and Liberty Mutual, have been outspoken in stating that they would not invoke exclusions for “acts of war” against policyholders. This comes despite some rumblings that insurers might try to invoke the exclusions, in light of statements by U.S. president George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell calling the terrorist attacks “acts of war” against the U.S. Swiss Re notes that its estimates “are based on the assumptions that claims will be paid in full. Given the complex circumstances surrounding the event, the outcome of ongoing substantial debate over liability and other issues will affect the ultimate amount paid by the industry”.
Several news reports have noted that some insurers are not compensating travelers left stranded by the shut down of airports and airlines in the early days of the tragedy. There is also speculation about whether insurers will discontinue certain coverage for airlines and airports, and what impact this might have on the already beleaguered aviation industry.
The revised loss estimates come while several sources suggest losses will be much higher than original figures, which range from US$15 billion to US$30 billion. Rating agency Moody’s says several insurers will experience “exceptionally severe” repercussions and financial strength ratings will reflect this. It also questions the debt strength of many insurers in light of the attacks, which it predicts will bring higher than estimated losses from property, business interruption and aviation claims. US rating agency Fitch, who first touted the US$30 billion number, said even at that figure the attacks represent the costliest event in insurance industry history.

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