Irma Comes at the Heels of Harvey, Insurance Stocks in Focus

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The insurance industry is still reeling under the impact of Hurricane Harvey and the damages caused in the wake of the storm. But there is a whole new catastrophic disaster, waiting to strike Florida, termed as Hurricane Irma. The storm has already strengthened to Category 5 and has hit the Leeward Islands of the northeast Caribbean.

It is still too early to provide an estimate of the loss to be duly incurred in the aftermath of this calamity. However, per a Barclays report, the projected impact of Hurricane Irma could possibly be the largest in U.S. history - a record, last held by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Per the catastrophe modelers AIR Worldwide and Karen Clark and Co., the estimated losses could range between $125 million and $130 million, echoing the 1926 Miami hurricane, Great Miami.

Adding to the woes is the wrath of Hurricane Harvey, still being felt by the insurance industry. An analyst from J.P. Morgan predicts its potential losses to range anywhere from $10 billion to $20 billion, thus making it one of the 10 most harmful hurricanes to hit the United States.

Silver Lining in Catastrophe Cloud

If we focus solely on the disadvantages caused by the occurrence of catastrophe events, it is apparent that such losses will put a dent in the underwriting results of an insurer, affecting the overall performance of an insurance company. However, the insurance industry can still fall back on such disasters to induce substantial price rise that has been flat owing to a not so active catastrophe environment.

Catastrophe events like Irma and Harvey are thus a necessary evil to the insurance industry for improving their pricing as they eventually lessen competition. In the past, a not so aggressive catastrophe environment paved way to inflate the insurers' capital reserves, resulting in loosening the underwriting standards with flexible terms and conditions to stay in business.

Therefore, the insurers were rattled with intense competition and compelled to reduce prices only to attract more business. But with the advent of the aforementioned tropical storms, the insurers can now heave a sigh of relief since the scenario is likely to change in the near term.

Per a report by Swiss Re, the global insured losses from disasters plummeted to $23 billion in the first half of 2017 from $36 billion in the year-ago period. Evidently, the insurance industry saw a drop in the demand for insurance claims against such catastrophe losses. Hence, lower claims from natural disasters and weather-related events have put a pressure on the pricing.

We wait and see if such catastrophe losses and weather-oriented events have the capacity to diminish the already large capital reserve and bring a change to the insurance pricing cycle in the near term.

Nevertheless, the industry has outperformed the broader market quarter to date, evident from a return of 1.9% compared with the S&P 500's gain of 1.4%.

Key Insurance Stocks in Focus

Although Hurricane Irma is yet to hit Florida but it has already started showing effects in the U.S. stock market. Some of the insurers with operations in Florida, having exposure to similar catastrophe events earlier, have already seen their share price fall in the wake of this tropical storm.

Everest Re Group, Ltd. ( RE ), Validus Holdings, Ltd. VR , Aspen Insurance Holdings Limited AHL and HCI Group, Inc. HCI , having operations in Florida, witnessed their shares decline by 6.9%, 8.8%, 9.4% and 20%, respectively, in the last couple of days.

Also, shares of XL Group Ltd XL , headquartered in Bermuda and within the Caribbean islands' vicinity, have lost 5.8% in the last couple of days.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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