Competition Steady Despite Disasters, Fitch Says

In its newest annual outlook report for property and casualty insurers, Fitch Ratings noted that while the 2018 rating outlook for insurers is stable, the fundamental forecast remains negative. Underwriting results deteriorated in the second half of 2017 following events including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, along with fourth quarter California wildfires. As a result, Fitch projected that industry-estimated statutory net profits would fall by about 50% in 2017, projecting a market combined ratio of 104.4% for the year compared to 100.7% in 2016.

Fitch said that even with the substantial catastrophe-related losses, U.S. property and casualty insurers’ operating performance appears to be on the rebound. The agency estimates that the industry combined ratio will approach break-even levels in 2018 if natural catastrophe-related losses revert towards long-term averages.

How does all this affect the market for insurance buyers? James Auden, managing director at Fitch Ratings, Inc. told the Risk Management Monitor that from a pricing standpoint, while there is some deterioration in results, especially in property, there is plenty of capacity for coverage in just about every segment.

“We haven’t seen a reduction in capital in the broader market, so how much these losses will carry over and make changes in another segment is a question,” he said. “And there are some segments that have been suffering in their own right, such as commercial and personal auto rates, which have been going up tremendously. We’ve seen a lot of turnaround, but there is still a need for rate hikes there. You’ll probably see that continue.”

Markets affected by catastrophe losses should see some large rate increases in property, which could carry over geographically, he said. Commercial property lines, which have been very soft for a while, should see broader increases. Other factors include companies’ loss history and the types of perils they face.

“I think we’ll see more rate increases geographically throughout the market next year,” Auden explained. “They will be higher in areas hit by hurricanes, but we will see them elsewhere as well. In Houston, the losses were much more commercial than residential in nature. In Florida the losses were more skewed to residential, but there were plenty of commercial losses there, too.” How far rates will rise may be dampened by the amount of capacity that still exists. “If you go back historically, when we’ve had true hard markets, it’s been tied to capacity shortages,” he said.

Auden added, “We are not seeing companies withdrawing from the market right now. We did see that in areas like commercial auto over the last couple of years, especially in long-haul trucking. In commercial property, however, I don’t think there is a big withdrawal of capacity. Companies are seeing an opportunity to improve the economics of their business and relieve pressure around pricing.”

In the area of mergers and acquisitions, there have not been many with the magnitude of last year’s Chubb-Ace deal. “We have had a few things, like Liberty Mutual’s purchase of Ironshore,” he said, adding that “There is always potential for M&As, but one thing that could restrict them is that with the stock market up so much, insurance markets have benefitted, so evaluations are a bit richer and that may limit interest from a value standpoint.”

The Lloyd’s market, which has been affected by competitive pricing over several years now, is on negative outlook. “There have been more exposures in the catastrophe piece and a weaker performance, so that has been driving our opinion there,” he said. “And there definitely are a lot of losses at Lloyd’s from the catastrophes this year.”

Despite the huge losses being seen, however, competition is still going on. “It’s relentless. There are plenty of underwriters out there trying to write the same business and to differentiate themselves on things like service,” Auden said, adding that he believes turnover will remain steady because insurance buyers typically shop their coverage frequently. “I don’t think there will be more turnover than usual.”

He concluded that in the area of property, while that there will be positive rate actions, making response to the losses more substantial, this may not be sustainable. “Do we see multiple carriers with rate increases? We think it’s likely that is not sustainable, unless we have a really bad year next year in terms of catastrophes,” Auden said.

October Commercial Composite Rate Minus 2%

For the first time this year, the composite rate—which includes all lines of commercial insurance—has decreased compared to the previous month. Octoberbarometer rates were down 2% compared to down 1% in June, July, August and September, according to MarketScout.

“Insureds and brokers should carefully examine the rates for coverage and/or industry classifications that are germane to their placements,” Richard Kerr, CEO of MarketScout, said in a statement.

By coverage classification, two large placement segments, commercial property and general liability, were down 2% in October compared to flat in September. Business owners’ policies were down 1% compared to flat in September, while commercial auto rates moderated from up 3% to up 2%. Among other lines, fiduciary, D&O, business interruption and surety were flat.

By account size, medium accounts ($25,001 to $250,000 premium) adjusted from down 1% in September to down 2% in October.

The industry classification for contractors and service companies was down 2% in October compared to down 1% in September. Energy adjusted to down 1% in October compared to flat in September, MarketScout reported.

August P&C Rates Flatten in U.S.

The August 2015 composite rate for property and casualty insurance placements in the United States were flat or showed no change compared to the July 2015 composite rate, Aug-Market Scoutwhich was up 1%, according to MarketScout.

“Thus far, 2015 is proving to be a steady year. Rates were up very slightly in February and July but all other months were flat,” said Richard Kerr, chief executive officer of MarketScout. “Again, it appears soft markets are not as soft as they once were and hard markets aren’t as hard. The cycles are moderating, probably because underwriters have so many tools to assure pricing is appropriate. These tools and increased board level oversight keep the cowboys in check—at least most of the time.”

All accounts with premiums under $1,000,000 were flat. Insureds with premiums in excess of $1,000,000 paid 3% less than in the same period last year. “Clearly, large insurance buyers are getting preferential pricing from insurers,” MarketScout said.

Rates by coverage classification were flat except for commercial auto, which was up 2%, and commercial property, which was up 1%.

By industry classification, all rates were flat except manufacturing, which was down 1%, and transportation, which was up 2%.

Summary of August 2015 rates by coverage, industry class and account size: