The financial damage from the hurricanes that struck Texas, Florida and the Caribbean in recent months has crossed the Atlantic when Munich Re, a German insurer, warned that virtually all of its profit this year would be wiped out by the horrendous cost of the disasters.
The hurricanes have already caused hundreds of deaths and left residents of Puerto Rico and other islands living in primitive conditions. Now, Munich Re and several other large reinsurers — companies that effectively insure other insurers — have reported big losses resulting from the natural disasters.
That has consequences for regular consumers: The financial battering that insurers have suffered portends higher premiums for homeowners in disaster-prone areas.
Virtually all insurance companies that sell to consumers and businesses unload some of their risk to reinsurers like Munich Re, Swiss Re or Scor SE, a French company that also reported losses from the hurricanes. The cost of buying reinsurance is almost certain to rise and will eventually be passed on to customers.
Insurance has already become expensive and hard to get in states like Florida, which are frequently at risk of being hit by hurricanes. Munich Re, which has warned about the effects of climate change since the 1970s, has predicted that the severity of storms is likely to increase in years to come. That would further raise the financial damage and, consequently, the cost of insurance.
Munich Re, by some measures the world’s largest reinsurer, said that its losses from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria would be 2.7 billion euros, although it warned that the estimate was “fraught with considerable uncertainty”. The losses will come to 3.2 billion euros including damage from other natural catastrophes such as earthquakes in Mexico, Munich Re said.
As a result, the company said it will report a loss of 1.4 billion euros for the third quarter of 2017 and only a “small profit” for the full year.
Early in the year, before the hurricanes struck, Munich Re had said its profit for the year would be at least 2 billion euros.
All of the big reinsurance companies have suffered losses from the hurricanes. However, their shares have risen in recent weeks as investors bet that they will ultimately profit from higher premiums and increased demand for insurance.
Scor Se, based in Paris, reported a third-quarter loss of 267 million euros as a result of the hurricanes and earthquakes. The company put its losses from the disasters at 430 million euros.
Swiss Re, based in Zurich, said that its losses from the hurricanes and the Mexican earthquakes would be $3.6 billion.
Munich Re had warned in September that severe losses from hurricanes would lead to a loss in the third quarter. That was before hurricane Maria swept across the Caribbean, causing even more damage. Much of Puerto Rico remains without electricity, water, cell phone service or most other modern amenities.