No Major Asia Tsunami Effect on U.S. Insurers

U.S. property-casualty insurers are expected to suffer little if any financial damage from tidal waves that killed more than 22,000 in Asia this past weekend, analysts said Monday.

Most of the largest U.S. insurance carriers have relatively little exposure to Asia, and those that do pass on much of that risk to reinsurance companies or special catastrophe funds. Beyond the human and economic devastation, analysts said the question for U.S. insurers is how much insured damage was caused by giant waves set off by the most powerful earthquake in 40 years.

Prudential Equity Group insurance analyst Jay Gelb, in a note to clients Monday, said the impact "could be modest" for insurers despite billions of dollars worth of destruction in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Indonesia, the Maldive Islands and Malaysia .

"Insured damage could be a fraction of this amount because most of the impacted areas are not heavily insured and it is unclear how much flood damage will be covered," Gelb wrote.

Spokesmen for American International Group (AIG) , the largest U.S. insurer, insurance broker Marsh Inc. (MMC), and broker Aon Corp. (AOC) could not be reached immediately for comment.

Analysts said the biggest exposures to the disaster could be found among reinsurance companies, firms that cover catastrophic losses for insurance carriers. Gelb said storm losses might be borne by RenaissanceRe Holdings Ltd. (RNR), XL Capital Ltd. (XL) and Ace Ltd. (ACE), though the final damages should not be significant.

For the most part, U.S. insurers have not done business in emerging Asian markets, which have had little need or appetite for commercial insurance. Any business from this region also has tended to go toward domestic or European firms.

"U.S. insurers are likely to have only minimal to no exposure. It's more likely the Bermuda-based reinsurance (companies) might have some exposure," said Paul Newsome, an insurance analyst at A.G. Edwards & Co.

One exception is AIG, a global life and property insurer that is active in China and Japan. But given AIG's massive scale, any losses are not expected to be significant.

Ace spokesman Robert Grieves said the Bermuda-based insurer does not comment on claims or exposures. Spokesmen for XL Capital and RenaissanceRe could not be reached immediately for comment. An Aon spokesman declined to comment.