Business / Industries

Fitch warns insured losses from blasts could reach $1.5b

By Hu Yuanyuan (China Daily) Updated: 2015-08-19 07:34

Fitch warns insured losses from blasts could reach $1.5b

Local residents pass a branch of PICC in Nanjing, Jiangsu province. [Zhen Huai / For China Daily]

The insured losses from a series of explosions at a chemical warehouse in Tianjin on Aug 12 are likely to range from $1 billion to $1.5 billion, Fitch Ratings said in a report on Tuesday.

The high insurance penetration rate in this area could make the blasts one of the most costly catastrophe claims for the Chinese insurance sector in the past few years, the report said.

According to the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, non-life-insurance premiums from Tianjin amounted to 11 billion yuan ($1.7 billion) last year.

As such, should insured losses come in at the high end of the initial estimate of $1 billion to $1.5 billion, they would represent about 88 percent of total direct premiums written in Tianjin, or roughly 5.4 percent of aggregated shareholder capital for the six most active issuers at the end of last year.

Motor insurance is expected to be a major sector of all claims, since over 8,000 vehicles were destroyed in the blasts.

Fitch expects the number of reported insurance claims cases to surge further in the coming weeks. It believes that claims are likely to undermine the financial performance of some regional players, as well as property and casualty insurers with high-risk accumulation in the affected areas.

PICC Property and Casualty Co, Ping An Property & Casualty Insurance Co of China, China Pacific Property Insurance, China Continent Property & Casualty Insurance, Sunshine Property & Casualty Insurance and Taiping General Insurance are the most active insurers in the region, accounting for more than 77 percent of the non-life segment as measured by direct premiums written.

Settlements started last week. Tianjin Port Public Security Bureau, located just 100 meters from the explosion site, received a 2 million yuan payment for its 27 destroyed cars from China United Insurance Co on Sunday.

On Monday, PICC Property and Casualty Insurance Co Ltd paid 20 million yuan to Tianjin Port Group.

"The blasts will not put too big a burden on the major insurance companies in China, since the industry is large enough to handle claims up to $1.5 billion, and reinsurers will help share the claims as well," said Wang Guojun, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

Claims from the blasts could be shared with both local and international reinsurers, which could mitigate the direct impact on the Chinese insurance sector.

While insurers could recover a portion of their property claims from their reinsurers, their exposure, the amount of retention and the number of reinstatements under the catastrophe reinsurance program are likely to determine the degree of severity to which they are affected.

Motor insurance claims could impair insurers' margins and capital if their reinsurance protection is marginal and the degree of risk accumulation within the affected region is significant.

Medical and life insurance claims are also likely to be substantial. Victims of death and injuries are covered by a government-supported accident insurance plan for the Tianjin region, in addition to their own medical and life insurance policies. Each injured person who is insured by the government plan can claim compensation of between 20,000 and 35,000 yuan, depending on the extent of the injuries, while compensation of 50,000 yuan will be paid in the event of death.

"The incident will have some positive impact on the insurance companies. They will have more comprehensive risk management and scrutiny of their clients in the future," Wang said.

Tian Siqi contributed to this story.

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