Monday, 14 March 2011

The cost of this terrible tsunami

The priority is simply dealing with the devastation and helping the survivors. But insurers are having to prepare themselves for the financial claims.

The cost of the disaster in Japan will spread across the globe, because insurers tend to reduce their risks by paying other insurance firms to share the risk of catastrophes.

This will be one of the biggest bills they have ever faced, second only to Hurricane Katrina. The Lloyds insurance market in London said it was confident it could respond.

But insurance experts have estimated that total claims from the earthquake and the tsunami combined, against Japanese and international insurers, will add up to $60bn or £37bn.

AIR, a firm which models the impact of disasters, says claims from the earthquake alone could climb to $35bn. They are working on the tsunami cost.

Barrie Cornes, insurance analyst at Panmure Gordon in London, extrapolates an overall bill for insurers of $60bn, from the AIR estimate.

The true cost of replacing infrastructure and rebuilding homes might be nearly twice that figure, over $100bn according to Barrie Cornes, because Japanese households and small businesses are notoriously under-insured.

Only 14 per cent have earthquake insurance and, even if they do have it, the policies often cover less than half the cost of repairing the damage.

Even so the claims will be staggering. And coming after the last month's tremor in New Zealand and the floods in Australia, they could have the knock-on effect of pushing up the cost of insurance round the world, as insurers try to cover their losses.

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