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Insurance rate hikes likely at January renewals

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Insurers and brokers range from “optimistic” about rate increases at Jan. 1 renewals to making bold predictions about double-digit hikes, according to research released Tuesday by Morgan Stanley.

Losses from the string of natural catastrophes in September and October have led to chatter and speculation about upcoming market conditions.

“After record catastrophe losses in 3Q, P&C managements are more bullish on pricing,” Morgan Stanley wrote in its Tuesday note. Following approximately $100 billion in industry losses from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, two earthquakes in Mexico and the California wildfires, property/casualty insurers and reinsurers “are more vocal on the need for improving pricing.”

The note added that rate increases could help drive earnings, now all the more important as the sector begins to report third-quarter earnings, which will include losses tied to the hurricanes and the Mexican earthquakes.

“We estimate 1-5% rate increases could lift earnings by (approximately) 6-29% on average,” Morgan said in its note. “Our scenario analysis indicates that 1-5% overall pricing increases could improve core combined ratios by 1-5 (points) which could lift earnings by (approximately) 6-29%. Companies with larger property cat reinsurance exposures could see higher overall pricing and greater earnings benefits.”

Comments from executives in the sector indicated a range of expectations.

One primary insurer said it is “optimistic about ... the potential for an improved rate environment in commercial lines, particularly in property, as the industry comes to terms with pricing, risk selection and catastrophe exposures.”

A broker seemed more bullish, saying: “Insurers plan to seek rate rises of 20% and higher on cat-exposed accounts that have losses, with historically unprofitable accounts facing the biggest price increases. Insurers will push for 10-20% base rate increases on cat-exposed accounts without losses from the events, while noncat property could be looking at quotes that are flat to 10% up.”