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A not-so-fond farewell to a tough, testing year

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Charged with writing a column as the year winds down, in most years an obvious tack is identifying events from the previous 12 months that one expects to be the future's fond memories.

I suspect that for most of us, though, 2009 wasn't a year likely to produce many fond recollections, and instead will be a year gladly left behind. As this year draws to a close, we probably all hope 2010 brings far better things.

As is customary in this, the year's final regular issue of Business Insurance, we look at the year's top events and newsmakers in risk management and employee benefits.

As rough a year as 2009 has been, looking over the lists and thinking back over other developments, as surprising as it seems, it appears 2009 wasn't all bad.

For insurance buyers, certainly a positive in 2009 was that the expectations many held early in the year of a market hardening in this year's fourth quarter were either wildly inaccurate assessments of market forces or simply wishful thinking by those on the seller side of the market.

In recent days, I've heard of some buyers looking at double-digit premium reductions in their 2010 renewals and, while that's not good news for insurers and brokers, it's certainly brightening some insurance buyers' holiday seasons a bit.

Of course, the flip side is that part of the reason premiums are down is decreased business activity and reduced property values, but we can all hope that the new year brings a change in that regard.

For seasonal warmth, how can you overlook the story of American International Group Inc. and Maurice R. Greenberg putting aside their differences in late November and settling their legal disputes? The agreement was widely acknowledged as a “win-win” for all involved and, while it might be naïve to hope that bygones truly are bygones, in this magical time of year who wouldn't want to believe that the principal players' holiday card lists just got a little bit longer?

Also on the AIG front, though Edward M. Liddy might not have many pleasant memories from his time with the company, someday he might look fondly on his decision this year to take off the congressional bull's-eye jacket he'd donned as AIG chairman and CEO. I mean, just how much abuse is someone supposed to take for $1?

Another item on the plus side of this year's ledger was the mild hurricane season, the calmest in 12 years, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Only nine named storms developed in the Atlantic basin between June 1 and Nov. 30, with only three becoming hurricanes.

The 2009 hurricane season certainly was good news to coastal property owners. Given that every storm season can't be expected to be so benign (in their first 2010 projections, Colorado State University's forecasters last week predicted an above-average Atlantic basin tropical cyclone season in 2010 and an above-average probability of a major U.S. and Caribbean hurricane landfall), the 2009 hurricane season may well be a fond memory for many somewhere down the road.

So I guess, all in all, 2009 had its bright spots.

Hopefully, though, for all of us, 2010's will be far more numerous and significantly brighter.