The global financial crisis has produced challenges across the entire economy, but the financial sector, where all the problems arguably began, has been particularly hard hit. While the most investment firms and other banking institutions may have experienced the most dramatic consequences, insurance companies have also been swept up in the whirlwind.
The extent of the recession’s impact on insurance companies and the resulting consequences for the insurance marketplace are the subjects of an April 2009 paper from insurance industry data firm Advisen entitled "The Impact of the Economic Crisis on the P&C Insurance Industry" (here, $ required). Advisen’s April 2, 2009 press release describing the report can be found here.
According to the paper, the various economic forces at play will likely shrink insurers’ policyholder surplus, thus diminishing the supply of insurance. These circumstances ordinarily would produce a so-called "hard" market, characterized by rising prices for insurance. However, the reduction in economic activity as a result of the current recession could also reduce the demand for insurance, which in turn could complicate the insurance cycle’s transition and "make for a very turbulent 2009" for the insurance industry.
The major cause for the reduction in the demand for insurance, which according to the paper could delay the transition to a hard market, is "shrinking exposure units." An exposure unit is the basis for calculating premium – for example, the size of an employer’s workforce will determine the employer’s workers comp and EPL insurance premiums.
Many of the exposure units that are critical for determining pricing for a variety of insurance lines – such as sales, real estate square footage, number and mileage of vehicles, payroll, and property values – are all likely to shrink in the months ahead, as a result of the recession. The shrinking exposure base will produce a fall-off in insurers’ top-line revenue.
In addition, insurance demand will also likely be further eroded as businesses close or fail. Even companies that survive may seek to increase self-insured retentions or limits, as a way to cut costs.
The reduction in demand will also likely be accompanied by a reduction in supply, in the form of policyholder surplus, both as a result of increased claims losses and as a result of diminished investment income and investment losses.
The likely increased claims losses could arise from a variety of sources. The paper states that job losses frequently are accompanies by an increase in the frequency and severity of workers’ comp claims. Reductions in force also could trigger EPL claims. And as has been well documented on this blog (refer here), the current economic crisis has also produced a wave of shareholder claims. As the Advisen report notes, these claims are particularly complex which will make them costly to defend and could also make them costly to resolve. D&O claims arising from bankruptcies and E&O claims arising from the various Ponzi scheme scandals could exacerbate the claims losses that insurers experience.
On the investment side, insurers’ investment results have taken a massive hit. Many insurers have had to take huge write-downs, both in their fixed income assets and with respect to more exotic investments. A few insurers have been particularly hard hit with valuation issues concerning "toxic" assets.
In more typical cycle transitions, insurance pricing swings result from changes on the supply side (i.e., policyholder surplus). But the depth of the current economic crisis could also uncharacteristically affect the demand for insurance. One proxy for insurance demand is GDP. When policyholder surplus declines relative to GDP, a hard market usually follows. In the current circumstances, GDP is under pressure, but the decline in policyholder surplus is relatively greater.
These circumstances, together with the likely difficulty insurers will face trying to raise fresh capital, suggest that the insurance marketplace will eventually harden, and higher premiums eventually will result. The Advisen paper projects that the hard market could "begin to set in" as early as mid-2009, and in any event no later than 2010.
However, the hard market will "likely take off slowly" due to lack of consumer and business confidence. When it comes, though, the hard market "could extend longer than previous hard markets owing to the lack of new capital entering the market."
The Advisen report is accompanied by extensive supporting data and analysis, and I think the author makes an excellent point about the pressure that the recession will put on the demand side of the insurance equation
As for the report’s predictions of the arrival and timing of a forthcoming hard market, I guess time will tell. In my view, a hard market is characterized by more than just rising prices; among other things, it also means a shortage of capacity as well as a constriction of terms and conditions. If there really were going to be a hard market as early as mid-2009 (which at this point is only a couple of months away), you would expect some sign of these things in the marketplace, but so far there is very little evidence of any of these things. Which at a minimum suggests to me that if there is going to be a hard market, its arrival could be more delayed than the report suggests.
That said, the report does make a compelling case for the likelihood that there actually will be a hard market this time. It may not be a question of whether, but only of when. Overall, the report is interesting and provides useful analysis of the current insurance marketplace and its likely future direction. The report is well worth reading at length and in full and I commend it to everyone.
Rescission Denied: Policy rescission is a controversial topic. But because the debate often involves high profile cases where the insurer has successfully rescinded a policy, it is sometimes overlooked how difficult it is for insurers to rescind coverage. A recent decision illustrates the difficulties carriers face when they seek to rescind a policy.
In a March 25, 2009 opinion (here), New York (New York Country) Supreme Court Justice Charles Ramos granted summary judgment for JP Morgan Chase in an insurance dispute involving several high profile claims. An excess insurer in J.P. Morgan’s bankers professional liability insurance program had sought to rescind its policy based on alleged misrepresentations in the company’s 2001-02 insurance renewal.
The excess insurer claimed that the company had made misrepresentations about its exposure to Enron, both in a Notice of Potential Claim submitted under the prior insurance program and in a Press Release.
As reflected in the April 2009 memo from the Proskauer Rose law firm entitled "Court Grants Summary Judgment Dismissing Insurer’s Rescission Claim" (here), Judge Ramos found that the Notice and the Press Release were not part of the renewal materials, and the insurer had not asked the company to warrant either document in connection with the renewal.
Judge Ramos also found that there was no issue of triable fact either that the insurer’s underwriters relied on the documents or that the company officials who prepared the documents were aware of any misrepresentations in the documents.
Judge Ramos also found that the insurer had waived rescission because it did not raise the defense until 2006, several years later, and had retained the premium.
While much more might be said about this decision, if nothing else, Judge Ramos’s opinion demonstrates the many hurdles carriers face in attempting to rescind a policy. Any carrier considering policy rescission might well want to review the opinion.
A prior post in which I discuss the difficulties carriers face in attempting to rescind coverage can be found here. Among other things, I note that "policy rescission wreaks havoc on all concerned."
More About the Bailout: Much has been written and said about the gargantuan federal bailout. A March 19, 2009 Rolling Stone article entitled "The Big Takeover" (here) presents a particularly irreverent and occasionally profane perspective on the subject.
Although the overall tone of the article borders on feverish, and the article definitely tends toward the conspiracy view of the world, it also contains some funny lines as well as some interesting observations. I particularly liked the author’s take on AIG: "AIG is what happens when short, bald managers of otherwise boring financial bureaucracies start seeing Brad Pitt in the mirror."
The article’s overall take on the bailout is summarized in this paragraph:
In essence, Paulson and his cronies turned the federal government into one gigantic, half-opaque holding company, one whose balance sheet includes the world’s most appallingly large and risky hedge fund, a controlling stake in a dying insurance giant, huge investments in a group of teetering megabanks, and shares here and there in various auto-finance companies, student loans, and other failing businesses. Like AIG, this new federal holding company is a firm that has no mechanism for auditing itself and is run by leaders who have very little grasp of the daily operations of its disparate subsidiary operations.
The report concludes with the observation about the bailout that "it’s AIG’s rip-roaringly shitty business model writ almost inconceivably massive." (I should probably emphasize that the view in the article quoted above are those of the article’s author, and do not necessarily represent the view or sentiments of this blog’s author.)
Special thanks to a loyal reader for providing a copy of the Rolling Stone article.