Insured losses stemming from natural disasters have surpassed a staggering one billion dollars in 2023 alone. This alarming trend not only underscores the increasing intensity of thunderstorms but also highlights the worsening impact of climate change on the insurance industry.
A recently released report by Gallagher Re, a reputable reinsurance broker, reveals that global insured losses reached an unprecedented $123 billion in 2023. While this figure represents a slight decrease compared to previous years, it marks the fourth consecutive year with losses surpassing $100 billion, leading experts to refer to this as the "new normal."
Steve Bowen, Chief Science Officer at Gallagher Re, emphasizes that this trend of escalating losses shows no signs of slowing down. He explains, "The trend is pretty clear that losses are continuing to accelerate for the industry." In fact, scientific findings confirm that 2023 was the warmest year on record since 1850.
Before 2023, the year with the most billion-dollar losses was 2020, with a total of 32 such events. Bowen explains that while climate change may not directly cause these individual events, it certainly amplifies their intensity or triggers unprecedented behavior. He states, "We've reached the point where essentially every major event has some fingerprint of climate change on it."
In response to these escalating risks, some property and casualty insurers have made strategic decisions to withdraw from vulnerable areas susceptible to flooding, hurricanes, and wildfires. Others have significantly raised premiums for homeowners or taken both measures simultaneously. However, even with these efforts, the losses continue to have a significant impact on the financial performance of insurers.
The true extent of this financial damage will become apparent in the coming weeks as insurers report their fourth-quarter results. Travelers will be the first to release their earnings on Friday.
During the third quarter, Travelers' earnings missed estimates due to expanded catastrophe losses, primarily attributed to "numerous severe wind and hail storms in multiple states." Nonetheless, Joshua Shanker, Senior Insurance Analyst at Bank of America, predicts that catastrophe losses will not be as elevated during the fourth quarter. He estimates Travelers' catastrophe losses at $211 million—a considerably lower figure compared to what he expects for Allstate and Chubb.
As the insurance industry grapples with the mounting toll of climate change, it remains to be seen how insurers will adapt to and mitigate these increasing risks.
Severe Convective Storms: A Growing Concern for Travelers
The year 2023 proved to be challenging for the insurance industry, with severe convective storms wreaking havoc across the globe. According to Gallagher Re, these intense thunderstorms caused an estimated $71 billion in insured losses, accounting for a staggering 58% of the total losses.
While many associate significant damage with hurricanes, Bowen from Travelers warned that severe convective storms in the US were on par with hurricane losses. In 2023 alone, insured losses from these storms reached a record-breaking $60 billion. This increase can be attributed to more people settling in vulnerable areas, creating greater exposure and risk.
Interestingly, Bowen emphasized that even without the influence of climate change, the sheer number of people at risk from hailstorms and tornadoes inherently leads to greater loss potential. The data supports this claim, as there were 20 thunderstorms in 2023 that caused at least a billion dollars in damages.
Moreover, Bowen revealed a surprising statistic from their report. If the insured losses from thunderstorms in 2023 were compared to the most expensive U.S. mainland years for hurricane losses, it would rank as the third-costliest year. This highlights the magnitude of the financial burden caused by severe convective storms.
Despite these challenges, the property and casualty (P&C) insurance industry experienced slower growth compared to the broader market in 2023. The Invesco KBW Property & Casualty Insurance ETF delivered a modest total return of 7%, while the S&P 500 index gained 26%, including dividends. Travelers' shares only saw a slight increase of 1.6%, while Progressive fared better with a gain of almost 23%.
It is evident that severe convective storms pose a significant concern for Travelers and the entire insurance industry. As more people settle in vulnerable areas, it's crucial to address the increasing exposure and potential losses associated with these intense weather events.