Rising U.S. losses from powerful hurricanes flag need for better protection

A police car is submerged in New Orleans East August 31, 2005 after Hurricane Katrina hit the area. Authorities struggled on Wednesday to evacuate thousands of people from hurricane-battered New Orleans as food and water grew scarce and looters raided stores, [while U.S. President George W. Bush said it would take years to recover from the devastation.]

Rising U.S. losses from powerful hurricanes flag need for better protection
By Anna Scholz-Carlson

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Only a few U.S. states are taking significant steps to reduce hurricane risks, as a study this week showed the most damaging storms are now three times as frequent as a century ago and have become the costliest type of disaster, scientists said.

Using a new method, a team at the University of Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute found the frequency of the worst hurricanes had increased 330% over the last century in the United States.

But many government authorities in the country remain unprepared to deal with the surging risk, said Natalie Peyronnin Snider, senior director of coastal resilience for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a U.S.-based advocacy group.

Getting ready would require policy and ground-level changes, including efforts to boost coastal protection, she said.

In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), University of Copenhagen scientists looked at parts of the United States hit by hurricanes in the last century, analysing changes in wealth and population densities to compare losses over time.

Previous research suggested the growing costs of damage from storms were largely due to costlier infrastructure and homes in their path, rather than a rise in the strength or frequency of hurricanes themselves, said Aslak Grinsted, a study lead author.

But the new work showed the growing number of powerful hurricanes was the key factor in increasing losses, he said.

Having clearer information should help communities plan ahead to curb losses, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Louisiana is one of the few states that has a comprehensive plan to deal with a growing hurricane threat, said EDF’s Snider.

In 2012, it launched a $50-billion Coastal Master Plan to elevate homes with severe flooding risk, create more wetlands, restore marshes and create rock breakwaters to better protect communities from surging storms.

The effort aims to help the southern state better weather hurricanes over the next 50 years, according to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority website.

The plan was in part a response to severe losses from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it noted.

Snider said using natural systems to curb hurricane risk – such as wetlands that can absorb excess water and prevent flooding or oyster-covered reefs to absorb wave energy – are cost-effective ways to curb damage from powerful hurricanes.

But Louisiana is not the only state looking to lower its hurricane risks.

In New York, a community-led project aims to restore 1 billion live oysters to New York Harbor by 2035, in part to tackle storm threats, according to its website.

Still, federal and state governments need to do more to protect their people, assets and ecosystems, Snider said.

“It’s really important that we start to be proactive and aggressive … in building resilience in our systems, which not only pays off financially but also for the health of communities,” she said.

Each dollar spent to cut disaster risk can save six dollars otherwise spent recovering after a disaster, she added.

(Reporting by Anna Scholz-Carlson; editing by Laurie Goering and Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

Catastrophes set to drive 2020 reinsurance rates higher

FILE PHOTO: An "Emergency shelter" sign points to the Pedro Menendez High School ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in St. Augustine, Florida, U.S., September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Marco Bello - RC1823A64B90/File Photo

By Carolyn Cohn and Lena Masri

LONDON (Reuters) – Big insurance losses from hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters over the past two years are set to push reinsurance renewal rates higher in January, ratings agencies said.

After falling for several years due to competition and fewer natural disasters, renewal rates have started to climb in the past couple of years and for 2020 are set to rise on average by as much as 5%.

However, as Hurricane Dorian ravages the Bahamas and bears down on the United States, Fitch, Moody’s and S&P Global said some rates could jump by much more than that.

S&P said rates would likely rise by around 5%, Moody’s expected rises of 0-5%, while Fitch predicted 1-2%, in briefings ahead of the reinsurance industry’s annual conference in Monte Carlo which begins on Saturday.

Reinsurers such as Swiss Re, Munich Re, and the Lloyd’s of London market help insurers share the risks of disasters in return for part of the premium.

“It’s not a hard market but it’s a hardening market, there’s more positive momentum,” Ali Karakuyu, lead analyst at S&P Global, told a media briefing.

Fellow analyst David Masters said the industry was likely to see “mid-single-digit price increases” as a result.

Insurers are increasingly concerned about the impact of bad weather linked to climate change, with an increase in wildfires in California among the most costly in recent years, something S&P said could see rates there jump 30-70%.

“This market remains in disarray, which will fuel further rate increases,” a slide from the S&P presentation said.

Analysts at UBS estimated that the reinsurance industry is in an excess capital position of around $30 billion, but that an estimated $70 billion of natural catastrophe losses in 2019 could erode this excess capital.

Moody’s analysts said lines of business that have been performing badly over the last few years, for example due to losses related to hurricanes in the United States, would see price rises in the mid-teens.

Fitch Senior Director Graham Coutts said he expected average rates to rise 1-2%, similar to the increases seen in January 2019, although further rises could be seen depending on the scale of losses from Dorian and other hurricanes.

(Editing by Simon Jessop/Alexander Smith/Susan Fenton)

Forest fire insurance costs soar

FILE PHOTO: A group of U.S. Forest Service firefighters monitor a back fire while battling to save homes at the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

MUNICH (Reuters) – Forest fires are becoming increasingly likely because of climate change and cost insurers more than ever, with the deadly fire that ravaged northern California the single most expensive natural disaster in 2018, Munich Re said on Tuesday.

The California wildfire that devastated the small town of Paradise in November caused losses of $16.5 billion, of which $12.5 billion were insured, according to the reinsurer’s annual catastrophe report.

Worldwide natural disasters caused $160 billion in economic damage in 2018. That was down from $350 billion the previous year, but a number of devastating hurricanes had contributed to the high losses in 2017.

Insurers and reinsurers paid out $80 billion for natural disaster claims last year, down from $140 billion a year earlier but almost double the 30-year average of $41 billion, the reinsurer said.

Munich Re board member Torsten Jeworrek said that 2018 was marked by several severe natural disasters with high insured losses.

“These include the unusual coincidence of severe cyclones in the U.S. and Japan, and devastating forest fires in California,” he said, adding that climate change appears to be making such large fires more common.

Insurers spent $18 billion on two huge fires in the United States in 2018 – equivalent to one in every four dollars they paid out as a result of natural disasters.

Ernst Rauch, the reinsurer’s chief climatologist, told Reuters that forest fires were entering a whole new dimension, costing tens of billions of dollars.

“Higher and higher temperatures are leading to ever greater droughts, and high humidity in the winter means that shrubbery grows quickly, creating an easily flammable material in dry summers,” he said.

Rauch said it was questionable whether areas at high risk could continue to be populated without taking additional measures, such as building houses further from forests and with better safety standards.

In Europe, an unusually hot summer caused a drought that wrought considerable damage on the agricultural sector and was the continent’s most expensive natural disaster at $3.9 billion. However, only a fraction of those losses were insured.

Reinsurers act as a financial backstop to insurance companies, paying a chunk of the big claims for storms or earthquakes in exchange for part of the policy premiums.

Hurricanes and typhoons caused $56 billion of damage last year. Hurricane Michael, which wrought devastation in Florida, was the most expensive for insurers, causing losses of $10 billion.

The review gave no claims figures for Munich Re itself. The reinsurer is due to report fourth-quarter results on Feb. 6.

(Reporting by Alexander Huebner; Writing by Caroline Copley; Editing by David Goodman)

U.S. agency says will keep providing water, other essentials in Puerto Rico

A car is partially buried under the remains of a building, after Hurricane Maria hit the island in September, in Humacao, Puerto Rico January 25, 2018.

By Nick Brown

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency said on Wednesday it would continue providing water, meals and other essentials to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico despite earlier reports its humanitarian mission in the U.S. territory would end on Wednesday.

“There was never, and is not now, a decision to stop distributing commodities on the island,” FEMA said in a written statement on Wednesday evening.

Puerto Rico is struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria, which hit on Sept. 20. The storm killed dozens and left the entire island without power at a time when it was already trudging through the largest government bankruptcy in U.S. history, with some $120 billion in combined bond and pension debt.

Some Puerto Rican and U.S. politicians had criticized FEMA this week after NPR reported on Monday that FEMA’s mission in Puerto Rico was coming to an end, citing a spokesman for the agency.

On Tuesday, FEMA reversed course, saying the initial Jan. 31 end date had been relayed in error.

Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, speaking on the Senate Floor on Monday, had said it would be “unconscionable” and “a travesty” to cut off aid in Puerto Rico, where nearly a third of the island’s 3.4 million U.S. citizens still lack power more than four months after the storm.

Eventually, FEMA will hand over responsibility for humanitarian aid to Puerto Rico’s government.

Amid the confusion over the timing of that transition, Puerto Rico’s public safety director, Hector Pesquera, said on Tuesday his administration was still negotiating with FEMA on the timing of the handover.

“We have yet to finish the discussions about when the transition should start,” Pesquera said. “It is important to note that this transition period should last at least two weeks.”

(Reporting by Nick Brown; Editing by James Dalgleish)

2017 second-costliest year on record for natural-disaster insured losses

Cars drive under a partially collapsed utility pole, after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria in September, in Naguabo, Puerto Rico October 20, 2017.

(Reuters) – Insured losses in the private sector and government-sponsored programs from natural disasters came to $134 billion in 2017, making it the second-costliest year on record, broker Aon Benfield said on Wednesday.

Three major hurricanes in the United States and Caribbean alone led to losses of $100 billion in 2017, according to risk modeling agencies and reinsurers.

That compares with losses of about $74 billion caused by Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005.

There were 330 natural catastrophes last year, leading to overall economic losses of $353 billion, of which an “unprecedented” 97 percent were caused by weather-related events, according to Aon’s catastrophe report, making 2017 the costliest year on record for weather disasters.

At $132 billion, 2017 was also the costliest year for insurers for weather disasters, with 60 percent of global insurance payouts in the year caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Weather losses exclude losses from other natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.

Wildfires caused $14 billion of insurance losses in 2017 – the highest on record for the peril, Aon said.

California faced wildfires in the northern part of the state that resulted in losses to those insured of more than $9 billion in October. Later in December, a sprawling Southern California wildfire become the largest on record in the state.

Other notable weather events in the year included earthquakes in Mexico, floods and Typhoon Hato in China and drought in Southern Europe.

“The insurance industry was well-positioned to handle the cost of the 2017 disasters. Global reinsurer capital was a record $600 billion at the end of third quarter 2017,” Aon said.

As a result, some reinsurers had been expecting double-digit price rises across the board when the Jan. 1 renewals came around after all of last year’s losses.

In the end, however, global property reinsurance prices rose less than expected, with strong competition limiting increases to single-digit percentages.

German reinsurer Munich Re, said this month that insurers will have to pay claims of around $135 billion for 2017, the most ever, following the spate of hurricanes, earthquakes and fires in North America.

(Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Carolyn Cohn in London; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Insurers to pay out record $135 billion for 2017 after hurricanes

The company logo of German reinsurer Munich Re is seen before the company's annual news conference in Munich, Germany, March 16, 2016.

By Tom Sims and Alexander Hübner

FRANKFURT/MUNICH (Reuters) – Insurers will have to pay claims of around $135 billion for 2017, the most ever, following a spate of hurricanes, earthquakes and fires in North America, according to a report published on Thursday.

German reinsurer Munich Re , in its annual natural catastrophe review, also said last year’s total losses, including those not insured, were $330 billion, the second-worst in history after 2011 when an earthquake and tsunami wreaked havoc in Japan.

Although individual events could not be linked directly to climate change, global warming is playing a role, Munich Re said. It expected more frequent extreme events in future.

“We have a new normal,” said Ernst Rauch, head of Munich Re’s Corporate Climate Center, which monitors climate change risks.

“2017 was not an outlier,” he said, noting insured losses have surpassed $100 billion multiple times since 2005. “We must have on our radar the trend of new magnitudes.”

Last year’s hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in the United States and Caribbean, wildfires in California and earthquakes in Mexico destroyed homes, infrastructure and numerous lives.

The disasters also rocked global insurers. Munich Re and Hannover Re both issued profit warnings.

That dealt a blow to a sector already struggling with thin margins, stiff competition and falling prices.

Munich Re’s tally for the industry comes on the back of other estimates that underscored the severity of 2017.

In December, Swiss Re estimated global insured losses from catastrophes would hit $136 billion in 2017, the third-highest on record for the sector, with the United States hardest hit. That figure is not directly comparable to Munich Re’s estimates as it includes man-made disasters.

Reinsurers, which are in the business of insuring insurance, are experts in managing risk and rarely get caught off guard. Analysts have said reinsurers may need to take a fresh look at their risk models as the planet warms and storms become more intense.

A big question for the industry has been whether the run of catastrophes would allow them to achieve higher prices for their coverage, which have been in decline for years.

Early indications suggest modest increases. Global property reinsurance prices rose less than expected in the key Jan. 1 renewal season, with strong competition limiting increases to single digit percentages, brokers said this week.

A turnaround in prices would be the first major reversal since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

(Editing by Maria Sheahan and Mark Potter)

U.S. job growth speeds up, unemployment rate falls

FILE PHOTO: Job seekers listen to a recruiter at the Colorado Hospital Association job fair in Denver, Colorado, U.S. on October 4, 2017

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. job growth accelerated in October after hurricane-related disruptions in the prior month, but a sharp retreat in annual wage gains and surge in the number of people dropping out of the work force cast a cloud over the labor market.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 261,000 jobs last month as 106,000 leisure and hospitality workers returned to work, the Labor Department said in its closely watched employment report on Friday. That was the largest gain since July 2016 but below economists’ expectations for an increase of 310,000 jobs.

Data for September was revised to show a gain of 18,000 jobs instead of a decline of 33,000 as previously reported. Some aspects of the report, however, were downbeat.

Average hourly earnings slipped by one cent, leaving them unchanged in percentage terms, in part because of the return of the lower-paid industry workers. That lowered the year-on-year increase to 2.4 percent, which was the smallest since February 2016. Wages shot up 0.5 percent in September, lifting the annual increase in that month to 2.9 percent.

Still, October’s job growth acceleration reinforced the Federal Reserve’s assessment on Wednesday that “the labor market has continued to strengthen,” and probably does little to change expectations it will raise interest rates in December. The U.S. central bank has lifted rates twice this year.

“The weakness in wages will not go unnoticed at the Fed, particularly for members that remained more concerned over the inflation outlook,” said Michael Hanson, chief U.S. economist at TD Securities in New York. “Overall, sustained job growth and labor market slack at pre-crisis lows keeps December in play.”

Although the unemployment rate fell to near a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, it was because the labor force dropped by 765,000 after a surprise jump of 575,000 in September.

The labor force participation rate, or the proportion of working-age Americans who have a job or are looking for one, fell four-tenths of a percentage point to 62.7 percent.

Prices of U.S. Treasuries rose after the data. The dollar <.DXY> gained against a basket of currencies and stocks on Wall Street were largely flat.

 

LABOR MARKET TIGHTENING

The sharp moderation in job growth in September was blamed on hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which devastated parts of Texas and Florida in late August and early September and left workers, mostly in lower-paying industries such as leisure and hospitality, temporarily unemployed.

Economists, however, remain optimistic that wage growth will accelerate with the labor market near full employment. Last month’s one-tenth percentage point drop in the unemployment rate took it to its lowest reading since December 2000. The jobless rate is now below the Fed’s median forecast for 2017.

A broader measure of unemployment, which includes people who want to work but have given up searching and those working part-time because they cannot find full-time employment, dropped to 7.9 percent last month, the lowest level since December 2006, from 8.3 percent in September.

Tepid wage growth supports the view that inflation will continue to undershoot the Fed’s 2 percent target and could raise concerns about consumer spending, which appears to have been largely supported by savings this year.

The economy grew at a 3.0 percent annualized rate in the third quarter. Growth has remained strong even as President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress have struggled to enact their economic program.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday unveiled a bill that proposed slashing the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent, cutting tax rates on individuals and families and ending certain tax breaks. The plan has been met with opposition from small businesses, realtors and homebuilders.

A separate report from the Commerce Department on Friday showed the U.S. trade deficit increased 1.7 percent to $43.5 billion in September as rising exports were offset by a surge in imports. Exports, which were the highest since December 2014, are being buoyed by a weakening dollar and strong global growth.

Monthly job growth has averaged 162,000 over the past three months. The economy needs to create 75,000 to 100,000 jobs per month to keep up with growth in the working-age population.

The slowing job growth trend largely reflects employers’ difficulties in finding qualified workers. Some economists believe the impact of the hurricanes was still holding back employment growth.

Private payrolls surged by 219,000 jobs in October after falling by 3,000 in September. Manufacturing employment increased by 24,000 jobs. The retail sector lost 8,300 jobs last month.

Construction payrolls gained 11,000 in October, likely boosted by hiring related to the clean-up and rebuilding efforts in the wake of the hurricanes. There were increases in professional and business services payrolls. Healthcare employment also rose last month.

 

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

 

Lloyd’s of London estimates Maria claims of $900 mln, cuts Harvey, Irma estimates

Buildings damaged by Hurricane Maria are seen in Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

LONDON (Reuters) – Lloyd’s of London estimated net claims of $900 million for Hurricane Maria, which caused devastation in Puerto Rico last month, the specialist insurance market said on Monday.

Lloyd’s also revised down its net claims estimates for hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which hit the United States in recent weeks, to $3.9 billion from initial estimates of $4.5 billion.

Insurers and reinsurers are counting the costs of the three hurricanes, which together with earthquakes in Mexico and wildfires in California, are adding up to a heavy year for natural catastrophe losses.

Lloyd’s said it had already paid $900 million in claims for the three hurricanes.

“We are experiencing one of the most active hurricane seasons this century,” Jon Hancock, Lloyd’s performance management director said.

“While it is clear that these catastrophes will bear a heavy toll, the claims are spread across the entire Lloyd’s market, which has total net financial resources of 28 billion pounds ($36.92 billion).”

Hancock said that while Lloyd’s was cutting its earlier estimates for Harvey and Irma, “this is a developing situation and there continues to be a high degree of uncertainty around any claims estimate”.

 

 

(Reporting by Carolyn Cohn; editing by Maiya Keidan)

 

U.S. jobless claims fall to more than one-month low

Pedestrians pass a sign advertising a sale and a job opening at a shop on Newbury Street in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell to more than a one-month low last week as claims in Texas and Florida continued to decline after being boosted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 243,000 for the week ended Oct. 7, the lowest level since late August, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was revised to show 2,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.

A Labor Department official said Harvey and Irma along with Hurricane Maria affected claims for Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In addition, claims for Virginia were estimated.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 251,000 in the latest week. Claims have been declining since surging to an almost three-year high of 298,000 at the start of September as workers displaced by the hurricanes were left temporarily unemployed.

As a result of Harvey and Irma, nonfarm payrolls dropped by 33,000 jobs last month, the first decrease in employment in seven years. A rebound in job growth is expected in October, boosted by the return of the dislocated workers as well as the start of rebuilding and clean-up efforts in storm-ravaged areas.

Underscoring the labor market’s underlying strength, claims have now been below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a robust labor market, for 136 straight weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.

The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at more than a 16-1/2-year low of 4.2 percent.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 9,500 to 257,500 last week.

The claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 32,000 to 1.89 million in the week ended Sept. 30, the lowest level since December 1973.

The so-called unadjusted continuing claims for Texas and Florida fell, suggesting some of the workers affected by Harvey and Irma had returned to their jobs. The unemployment rate among people receiving jobless benefits fell one-tenth of a percentage point to 1.3 percent.

Overall continuing claims have now been below the 2 million mark for 26 straight weeks, indicating that labor market slack continues to diminish. The four-week moving average of continuing claims fell 11,500 to 1.93 million, remaining below the 2 million level for the 24th consecutive week.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

Dudley sees Fed rate hikes; inflation weakness ‘fading’

William Dudley, President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, answers a question, after addressing the Indian businessmen at the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) in Mumbai, India May 11, 2017.

By Jonathan Spicer

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve is on track to gradually raise interest rates given the recent inflation weakness is fading and the U.S. economy’s fundamentals are sound, an influential Fed policymaker said on Monday, reinforcing the central bank’s confident tone.

New York Fed President William Dudley, among the first U.S. central bankers to speak publicly since a decision last week to hold rates steady for now, cited the soft dollar and strong overseas growth among the reasons he expects slightly above-average U.S. economic activity and a long-sought rise in wages.

“With a firmer import price trend and the fading of effects from a number of temporary, idiosyncratic factors, I expect inflation will rise and stabilize around the (Fed’s) 2 percent objective over the medium term,” he told students and professors at Onondaga Community College.

“In response, the Federal Reserve will likely continue to remove monetary policy accommodation gradually,” added Dudley, a close ally of Fed Chair Janet Yellen and a permanent voter on monetary policy.

Dudley’s comments were similar to his speech earlier this month, and reinforced the growing expectation that the Fed is set to raise rates for a third time this year in December. That notion was driven home by Fed forecasts published last week, when the central bank held rates but announced the beginning of a long process of shedding bonds it accumulated to boost the economy.

Still, others at the Fed are less anxious to tighten policy in the face of price readings that have sagged since February, despite strong jobs growth. Futures traders give a December rate hike about a 55-percent probability, according to Reuters data.

Dudley nodded to the three devastating hurricanes that have struck parts of the U.S. south and the Caribbean, noting their effects will likely make it more difficult to interpret economic data in coming months. He said, though, that the effects would likely be short-lived and noted that such events tend to boost economic activity as rebuilding gets underway.

In a speech focused on workforce development, he said the Fed, which is tasked with achieving maximum sustainable employment, “cannot declare success if we have people who want to work but lack the skills to fill available jobs.” Yet he noted that the Fed’s tool kit is limited and best works to provide incentives for firms to invest and grow.

“There are greater incentives for businesses to invest in labor-saving technologies” and the labor market improves, he said. “Investment spending should also benefit from a better international outlook and improvement in U.S. trade competitiveness caused by the dollar’s recent weakness.”

 

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)