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Kyrill slams Europe, may drive rates higher

Kyrill slams Europe, may drive rates higher

The up to €8 billion ($10.37 billion) in insured losses from the windstorm that tore through several European countries earlier this month, may push up property reinsurance rates in Europe, some experts say.

If the insured loss estimates produced by modeling firms are "only remotely reflecting reality, then I imagine it would have a profound impact on reinsurance rates at the next renewal," said Wilhelm Zeller, chairman of the executive board at German reinsurer Hannover Re.

"This, all the more so, as property cat rates in the major continental markets are not really on the high side--nothing in comparison to the U.S.," Mr. Zeller said.

"Definitely, if there are claims, the reinsurers will ask for higher premiums," added Holger Gaserow, chief executive officer of Aon Re in Frankfurt, Germany, a unit of broker Aon Corp. The outcome, however, depends on the amount of losses, as well as supply and demand, he added.

The Jan. 18 storm, which struck Europe with hurricane-force winds over two days, killed 47. Kyrill hit the United Kingdom and Germany the hardest, but also affected Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and, to a lesser degree, Switzerland.

Risk Management Solutions Inc., in Newark, Calif., gave an initial estimate last week of €3 billion to €5 billion ($3.89 billion to $6.48 billion) for insured losses.

AIR Worldwide Corp. in Boston estimated insured losses between €4 billion and €8 billion ($5.19 billion and $10.37 billion), which would include insured losses in Germany of about €2 billion ($2.59 billion).

John Moore, the co-head of reinsurance brokerage Benfield Group Ltd.'s International ReMetrics Team in London, viewed some of those projections as high. Benfield estimates the total insured loss across the whole of Europe as €1.75 billion ($2.27 billion) to €2 billion.

Mr. Moore does not expect to see large cat losses to reinsurers from the storm.

"Should the estimate of a €1 billion ($1.3 billion) loss in Germany be realized, generally the lowest layers of the reinsurance programs will be affected, although there might be regional exceptions," he said.

Swiss Reinsurance Co. estimated that the Kyrill caused total insured losses of up to €3.5 billion ($4.54 billion). The Zurich-based reinsurer said it faced €140 million ($181.5 million) in net losses from the storm.

Tony Melia, London-based managing director at Willis Re, a unit of Willis Group Holdings Ltd. in London, said: "The initial loss estimates look reasonably low, with Germany being the most affected, but the impact on reinsurance programs, even in Germany, is not expected to be major. This means the event should have no material impact on rates or capacity."

Kyrill was less intense than past windstorms; however, its swath was large, and its ultimate cost could be significant, said Claire Souch, RMS' director for international model management.

"We could see this as the 'Hurricane Wilma of Europe'--with losses initially seeming to be very light, but accumulating substantially," she said.

"While the level of damage to individual properties is expected to be relatively low, the sheer number of claims will drive up the total insured losses," said AIR's Peter Dailey, director of atmospheric science for research and modeling.

Kyrill battered Europe with wind speeds exceeding 60 mph on a widespread scale, with wind gusts peaking at more than 120 mph.

In Germany, Berlin's recently constructed central train station, the biggest in Europe, had to close when high winds tore a two-ton steel girder from its façade. For the first time in its history, the Deutsche Bahn national railway suspended all services across the country because of downed trees on train tracks.

In the English Channel, 26 crew members of a container ship, the MSC Napoli, that started sinking off the coast of southwest England had to be rescued. Some of the ship's contents, valued in news reports at $2.5 million, washed ashore, with looters reportedly making off with a variety of expensive goods, from tractors to motorcycles. Oil leaking from the grounded ship also washed ashore. The ship's third-party liability insurer is the London Steam-Ship Owners Mutual Insurance Assn. Ltd.

The majority of losses from Kyrill relate to residential property damage, with moderate damage to commercial property and auto, according to Ms. Souch of RMS. Power outages to hundreds of thousands across Europe will contribute to those losses, as will forestry damages, she added.

Kyrill has been compared by insurers and modelers to Windstorm Daria in 1990, which caused insured losses amounting at that time to €4.4 billion ($5.7 billion). If Daria followed the same path today, RMS predicts the loss would be in the order of €10 billion ($12.97 billion).

Windstorm Jeannette in 2002 struck a smaller area with lower winds than Kyrill, and caused nearly €1.5 billion ($1.94 billion) in damage.

Munich, Germany-based Munich Re Group said Kyrill was "a typical storm for a warm winter." And, with winters tending to get warmer because of climate change, the probability of more Kyrill-like storms is steadily increasing in Europe, the reinsurer said.

"Kyrill has confirmed our recent forecast that this year's unusually warm winter will go hand in hand with a particularly high windstorm risk," Peter Höppe, head of Geo Risks Research at Munich Re, said in a statement.

"It fits into the pattern of climate change, which, in the long term, will intensify weather extremes in Europe, too. Winter storms in particular will probably tend to be stronger," he said.