While the human toll from the monster Asian earthquake and tsunami is incalculable, analysts continue to expect the natural disaster to have a modest financial impact on U.S. insurers.
The Insurance Information Institute reports that "relatively little insurance is sold" in the countries hardest hit by one of the world's worst natural disasters in 40 years.
For instance, in Sri Lanka, where the death toll from the killer waves is fast approaching 22,000, just $137 million was spent on underwriting non-life-insurance policies in 2003, according to the insurance association. The total dollars spent on insurance premiums in 2003 represented 0.74% of the Southeast Asian island nation's gross domestic product.
By comparison, spending on non-life-insurance premiums in the U.S. in 2003 was equal to 5.23% of GDP.
Despite all the human suffering -- the most recent estimate is 70,000 dead -- and enormous economic losses, the insurance industry may not be called on much to pay for the rebuilding. Early estimates put the property damage in the affected countries at $13 billion.
The insurers with the largest potential exposure are Asian are European firms. But most of those policies are limited to the big resorts and hotels in Thailand and Indonesia, many of which incurred serious damage from the tsunami.
, the giant German reinsurance firm, has pegged its potential exposure at under $100 million.
Only a handful of U.S. and Bermuda-based insurers are significant underwriters in the region, with
American International Group
being the two biggest players. But analysts say the number of policies written by AIG and Chubb are not substantial, given the breadth of their international coverage.
"We expect little or no impact on U.S. primary insurers," says Fox-Pitt Kelton insurance analyst William Yankus, in a research note. "Chubb and AIG have developed insurance operations in many of the nations impacted by the tsunami. However, we would generally expect tsunami losses for these companies to be small or immaterial."
Indeed, AIG itself said on Monday that it didn't have significant business exposure in affected areas.
Yankus is not making any changes in his fourth-quarter earnings estimates for the insurers.
In late morning trading, shares of AIG were up 14 cents to $66.03, while Chubb rose 36 cents to $77.