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Underwriting loss forecast for 2022: Institute forum


NEW YORK — The insurance industry is forecast to move to an underwriting loss in 2022 after four years of slim underwriting profits as personal lines loss trends, particularly in auto and homeowners, weigh upon comparatively better commercial market performance, according to a panel speaking Thursday in New York at the Insurance Information Institute’s Joint Industry Forum.

Inflation has led to a general doubling of replacement costs for sectors such as automotive and housing, with material and labor shortages and supply-chain delays all part of the equation, according to Michel Léonard, chief economist and data scientist, head of the economics and analytics department, for the institute.

The resulting increase in loss trends across the insurance business will swing the industry to an underwriting loss with a projected combined ratio of approximately 105% in 2022, this after hovering around 99% and thus reflecting a small underwriting profit from 2018 through 2021, according to Dale Porfilio, chief insurance officer for the institute.

The industry’s combined ratio is then expected to improve through the end of the forecast period of 2024. “We do expect improvements through 2023 and 2034 coming back down towards 100%,” Mr. Porfilio said.

“In the aggregate, commercial lines are relatively outperforming personal lines. That was the case in 2021 and we expect that to be the case in 2022 and through our forecast period of 2024,” said Jason Kurtz, principal and consulting actuary for actuarial consultant Milliman Inc.

There are more “bright spots” in the commercial lines sector, Mr. Kurtz said, pointing to workers compensation, “which is now in 2022 closing in on eight years of underwriting gain.”

Commercial property markets are facing material shortages of things like steel, glass and copper, according to Mr. Leonard, and labor challenges have added low-to-mid-double-digit percentage time increases to some tasks.

Still, the net combined ratio for commercial property markets is forecast to be approximately 99.1% in 2022, Mr. Kurtz said, showing a small underwriting profit despite losses tied to Hurricane Ian. The forecast for 2023 is approximately 94% and 2024 92%, with a caveat about the unknown nature of events such as Ian.

Commercial auto lines are forecast to eek out a small underwriting profit with a combined ratio of some 99% in 2021, but will surrender ground in 2023 with a forecast ratio of 102% and in 2024 at 101%, according to Mr. Kurtz.

Paul Lavelle, head of U.S. national accounts for Zurich North America, who introduced the panel, said that rapid inflation, debt crises and the cost of living have replaced technology and climate/environmental risks as the top concerns in the executive opinion survey that accompanies the World Economic Forum global risks report due out in January, on which both Zurich and Marsh Ltd. collaborate.