Despite Sandy, Insurers Keep Improving During 2013

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Property and casualty insurers are improving their core businesses, as industry damage payouts decline and premium prices move higher.

As part of TheStreet's series on the one year anniversary of the disastrous arrival of Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast, we have reviewed the earnings and core insurance underwriting performance of the five publicly traded U.S. property and casualty (P&C) insurers with the largest Northeast market shares, and found vast improvement.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, total insurance losses from catastrophes in the United States during 2012 came to $35 billion, with $18.75 billion in losses from Hurricane Sandy. The 2012 loss total increased from $33.6 billion in 2011.

During the first half of 2013, U.S. insured catastrophe losses totaled $9.7 billion, declining sharply from $14.4 billion a year earlier. To offer some perspective on what that figure means, the 10-year average for U.S. insured catastrophe losses over the past 10 years is $9.2 billion, according to ISO, a subsidiary of Verisk Analystics ( VRSK).

So the first half of 2013 can be considered somewhat "normal," while "the third quarter of 2013 did not bring any major catastrophes," according to Insurance Information Institute president and economist Robert Hartwig. In his organization's assessment of first-half results for the P&C insurance industry, Hartwig wrote that "historically, the third quarter is the most costly in terms of catastrophe losses. Hurricane activity remained subdued and far below expectations for an active season."

2013 is shaping up to be a very good year for the industry, as long as we don't see any fourth-quarter hurricane surprises. But these events are beyond the industry's control. The real story for investors is the development of underwriting profits, with "continued and steady premium growth," according to Hartwig.

When asked how the insurers are creating a better underwriting pricing environment (at least for them), Hartwig says "we are in the midst of a trend with rates continuing to move up modestly across most types of P&C coverage. That includes homeowners and commercial property insurance which, of course, has been affected by catastrophe losses, but also auto insurance and workers compensation.'

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