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Fitch: Global Reinsurers Expected To Rebound from Catastrophe Losses

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May 14, 2018

The sector outlook for global reinsurance remains negative given intense market competition, the influx of alternative capital that continues to pressure pricing, and persistently low investment yields that strain reinsurer profitability, Fitch Ratings said. However, Fitch's ratings for the global reinsurance sector remain stable, as strong capitalization of most rated entities should allow Fitch to affirm the majority of its ratings over the next 12–18 months. 

Fitch sees reinsurer profitability improving in 2018, reflecting the normalization of catastrophe losses and marginally improved pricing. The global re/insurance industry endured record catastrophe losses of $144 billion in 2017, driven by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as California wildfires and Mexican earthquakes. Fitch forecasts the underlying accident-year reinsurance combined ratio excluding catastrophes to improve slightly to 92.1 percent in 2018 versus 92.6 percent in 2017, reflecting marginal price improvement.

Fitch believes year-to-date reinsurance price improvements may not be sustainable. Despite record catastrophic losses in 2017, rate increases were modest, and the softness of April renewals indicates that price improvement may not be maintainable. The influx of alternative capital (the additional capacity being provided by capital market investors willing to accept lower prices for catastrophic risk) limits cyclical price rebounds historically seen after periods of severe catastrophe losses. 

Return on equity should rebound in 2018, with modest growth in equity capital levels and an improvement in underwriting results. Investment results and earnings from outside non-life reinsurance should continue to offset potential underwriting losses, which were exacerbated in 2017 by high catastrophe losses and lower reserve releases, according to Fitch.

Fitch sees continued mergers and acquisitions activity given limited organic growth opportunities and competitive market conditions. Fitch views larger re/insurers with increased scale and diversification as better positioned to succeed amid difficult market fundamentals. However, acquisitions are not without risk, particularly in assessing the appropriate valuation for a target company and its reserve levels, as well as the challenges pertaining to execution and efficient integration.

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