Disasters Cost Insurers $60 Billion in First Half on Japan

Catastrophes Cost Insurers $60B in First Half
Members of the Self Defense Forces clean a damaged road as a fishing vessel swept to the inland by a tsunami following the March 11 earthquake lies in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture, Japan, on April 28, 2011. Photographer: Kimimasa Mayama/Bloomberg

July 12 (Bloomberg) -- Natural disasters, including the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, cost insurers about $60 billion in the first half of this year, almost five times the average since 2001, Munich Re said.

“Most of the losses were accounted for by the earthquake in Japan,” the Munich-based company said in an e-mailed statement today. The total economic losses of $265 billion in the period exceeded the figure for all of 2005, previously the costliest year on record.

Insurers such as Allianz SE and Axa SA and reinsurers, which help them shoulder risks for clients, had their most costly first quarter this year because of disasters including the record earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March, a cyclone and floods in Australia and the quakes that hit Christchurch in New Zealand in February and June.

The Japan quake caused an overall economic loss of $210 billion, making it the costliest natural catastrophe on record, Munich Re said. Losses assumed by insurers, which Munich Re estimates at $30 billion, will not reach the $62.2 billion caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the reinsurer added.

Typically, the first six months of a year see lower insured losses than the final six months, which are often affected by hurricanes in the North Atlantic and typhoons in the Northwest Pacific, Munich Re said.

Hurricane Season

No major hurricane has hit the U.S. coast so far this year. Forecasts suggest the 2011 Atlantic season to be more active than in an average year, which produces 11 named storms.

Hurricanes are watched closely because they are a threat to oil and natural gas interests in the Gulf of Mexico and agriculture in the U.S. South. Florida is the second-largest citrus producer behind Brazil, while the Gulf accounts for 31 percent of U.S. oil output and 43 percent of refining capacity.

Munich Re, the world’s biggest reinsurer, said in May it had a first-quarter loss of 947 million euros ($1.3 billion) on claims related to the disasters, while Swiss Reinsurance Co., its largest rival, posted a loss of $665 million.

To contact the reporter on this story: Oliver Suess in Munich at osuess@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Frank Connelly at fconnelly@bloomberg.net; Edward Evans at eevans3@bloomberg.net