Insurers’ 2011 Catastrophe Losses Reached Record on Japan, Munich Re Says

Japan’s earthquake and U.S. storms helped make 2011 the costliest year on record for insurance companies in terms of natural-disaster losses, according to Munich Re (ARN).

Several “devastating” earthquakes and a large number of weather-related catastrophes cost insurers $105 billion, more than double the natural-disaster figure for 2010 and exceeding the 2005 record of $101 billion, the world’s biggest reinsurer said in an e-mailed statement today. Competitor Swiss Re earlier estimated that the industry’s claims from natural catastrophes reached $103 billion.

Global economic losses jumped to $380 billion last year, surpassing the previous record of $220 billion in 2005, with the quakes in New Zealand in February and Japan in March accounting for almost two-thirds of the losses, Munich Re said.

“We had to contend with events with return periods of once every 1,000 years or even higher at the locations concerned,” Torsten Jeworrek, Munich Re’s board member responsible for global reinsurance, said in the statement. “We are prepared for such extreme situations.”

Japan’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami may cost insurers as much as $40 billion and the quake in New Zealand may cost $13 billion, the reinsurer said. Floods in Thailand were the third- costliest event at about $10 billion.

Other catastrophes included Hurricane Irene, causing $7 billion in insured losses, and severe storms and tornadoes in the U.S. in April, costing $7.3 billion.

For the first time, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration classified a low-pressure system over the Mediterranean as a tropical storm, Munich Re said. Tropical storm Rolf made landfall on the French Mediterranean coast in November.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nicholas Comfort in Frankfurt at ncomfort1@bloomberg.net; Carolyn Bandel in Zurich at cbandel@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Frank Connelly at fconnelly@bloomberg.net

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