Insurers’ 2011 Disaster Losses Worst Since 2005, Swiss Re Says

Natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2011 cost insurers $108 billion, making it the second-most-expensive year on record, according to estimates from Swiss Re Ltd.

Last year’s insured losses amounted to $48 billion, according to an e-mailed statement from Swiss Re, the world’s second-biggest reinsurer. Total economic losses may be around $350 billion, according to preliminary estimates by the Zurich-based reinsurer, compared with $226 billion in 2010.

Claims from natural catastrophes alone reached $103 billion this year following the earthquake in Japan, which could have made 2011 the costliest year for the insurance industry if Japan had been “more fully insured,” Swiss Re said. Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita made 2005 the most expensive year on record, with $123 billion in insured losses.

“Additional claims from the ongoing massive floods in Thailand or from winter storms which may yet hit Europe have the potential to bring figures for the full year even closer to the record claims” in 2005, Swiss Re said.

The earthquake in Japan on March 11 and the ensuing tsunami caused insured losses of $35 billion, while the Feb. 22 temblor in New Zealand cost $12 billion. The floods in Thailand are estimated to cost between $8 billion and $11 billion. Severe storms in the U.S. in April and May cost about $14 billion, while hurricane Irene is estimated to cost $4.9 billion.

“At more than $47 billion, earthquake-insured claims for 2011 are the highest ever recorded,” Swiss Re said.

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