According to catastrophe modeling firm Karen Clark & Co., insured property losses resulting from the devastating wildfire that recently swept through Lahaina, Hawaii, are estimated to be around $3.2 billion.
Implications for Homeowners Nationwide
While the property and casualty insurance industry is well-equipped to handle these claims, analysts and industry experts warn that homeowners across the country may end up paying the price. Insurers are likely to raise premiums in order to cover ongoing losses from wildfires and other extreme weather events like thunderstorms.
Absorbing the Loss
Meyer Shields, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, reassures that even though insured losses may reach the low to mid-billion-dollar range, it is not a significant loss in relation to the entire industry's capitalization. Insurance companies are more than capable of absorbing this loss and continuing their operations. However, they will likely increase rates in response to this recent event. The memory of this loss will remain fresh for years to come, contributing to higher premiums.
Primary Insurers Taking the Brunt
It is expected that primary insurers, rather than reinsurance companies (the insurers for insurance companies), will bear the majority of the losses. As a result, premiums will rise accordingly.
Anticipating Future Losses
Shields adds that this event will further reinforce the trend of rising homeowners' rates. Companies will factor in the potential losses they may face in upcoming years, such as in 2024-2025, which are now expected to be higher due to recent events.
A Well-Capitalized Industry
The insurance industry is largely well-capitalized and is equipped with substantial reserves to handle claims. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the U.S. property and casualty industry had a total capital of $980 billion at the end of 2022.
Janet Ruiz, spokesperson for the institute, affirms the stability of the Hawaii insurance market. She states that insurance companies are prepared to handle catastrophes, having dealt with wildfires and hurricanes in other states. Ensuring their ability to handle such events is a fundamental aspect of the insurance industry.
Insurance Industry Faces Mounting Losses and Rising Premiums
The recent Lahaina wildfire has further exacerbated the financial strain that U.S. insurers are currently experiencing due to higher-than-expected catastrophe losses this year. These losses primarily stem from severe convective storms, encompassing thunder, lightning, heavy rain, hail, strong winds, and abrupt temperature fluctuations.
According to Gallagher Re, a prominent reinsurance broker, insured losses from these storms have already reached a staggering $34 billion as of mid-July. There is a potential for this figure to increase, elevating 2023 to surpass 2011 as the most economically burdensome first half of the year in terms of thunderstorm-related insured losses.
As insurance companies grapple with persistently significant losses stemming from catastrophic events, adjustments are being made in the form of increased insurance rates, premium modifications, and a reduction in coverage offered in high-risk areas. This entails a decrease in the number of policies being underwritten. Consequently, the upward pressure on premiums is anticipated to persist for an extended period. Presently, the average cost of homeowners’ insurance in the U.S. stands at $1,700, a 10% rise compared to last year.
Adam Klauber, an analyst at William Blair, predicts that insurance companies will continue restricting coverage in regions particularly susceptible to wildfires. Farmers Insurance recently made the decision to curtail the sale of homeowners’ policies in Florida and California. This move follows suit with other major insurers such as State Farm and Allstate (ticker: ALL), both of which have ceased writing new home-insurance policies in California.
In light of the aftermath of the Lahaina wildfires, Klauber anticipates the continuation of geographic restrictions and non-renewals. He further predicts that more consumers will be compelled to seek coverage from the less regulated excess and surplus market, albeit at a higher cost.
Written by: Lauren Foster