The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront the gap between property/casualty (P/C) insurers' insurable and noninsurable coverage. Pressure is rising among small-business owners, politicians, regulators, and insurance industry participants to solve the ultimate question of whether P/C insurance policies are required to cover COVID-19-related losses. At the same time, the economic shutdown has led to a significant curtailment of business activity and lower miles driven, which should ultimately translate into lower insurable losses. While these factors generally bode well for insurer profitability in the near term, they also give rise to a number of risks.
S&P Global Ratings currently maintains a stable outlook on the U.S. property/casualty sector. The industry began 2020 with roughly 20% capital redundancy at the 'AA' level, which provides a great deal of resilience to weather current challenges. While we appreciate that the current pandemic, as well as the uncertainty of catastrophe season, presents key risks that could impair the industry's strong capital position, our current assessment is that these factors alone are not likely to result in a meaningful number of negative rating actions. That said, the current volatile state of financial markets and the U.S. economy adds another element of uncertainty.
Below, we answer frequently asked questions about how we assess a number of COVID-19-related risks and how we incorporate these factors in our assessment of issuer creditworthiness.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do recent proposals concerning the coverage and funding of business interruption insurance factor into S&P Global Ratings' view of P/C insurer creditworthiness?
Several state legislatures are considering an attempt to retroactively expand business interruption insurance coverage to ameliorate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we recognize several challenges in modifying such policies.
We would expect that a host of constitutional and legal challenges would likely accompany a potential retroactive expansion of insurance contract coverage. We anticipate that such efforts in any state would be largely unsuccessful unless the government provides resources to insurers to meet such obligations.
Following the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic, insurers meaningfully tightened their underwriting standards, and most business interruption insurance contracts now reflect exclusionary language pertaining to communicable diseases. This exclusion underlies the pricing and reserving constructs upon which the majority of insurance contracts are now developed. Further, the insurance industry offers separate and distinct endorsements for communicable diseases, but insureds' subscription rate is low.
At the federal level, the proposed Pandemic Risk Insurance Act (PRIA) would provide insurers a backstop in the event of a pandemic causing an economic fallout, with workings similar to the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act put into place in 2002. The current proposal is still under consideration but includes an event trigger of $250 million of losses and would provide coverage up to $500 billion, with each participating insurer responsible for a deductible based on a certain percentage of its premiums. The federal government would cover 95% of losses above the deductible (the insurer would retain the other 5%) up to an annual cap of $500 billion. PRIA funding will build over time, and its coverage is prospective rather than retrospective. This federal backstop would require insurers to include business interruption coverage for communicable diseases, which cannot be diversified and would be a new challenge for the industry.
While we will continue to monitor developments, we do not currently foresee a meaningful impact on the creditworthiness of insurers stemming from these efforts.
If legislative proposals gain traction, how could they affect the creditworthiness of P/C insurers?
While we currently view this development as unlikely, structural changes forcing carriers to provide business interruption coverage for communicable diseases such as COVID-19 could profoundly influence the creditworthiness of P/C insurers. If such proposals were to gain traction, we would need to consider their impact on our Insurance Industry And Country Risk Assessment (see "Insurance Industry And Country Risk Assessment: U.S. Property/Casualty Insurance," published April 20, 2020). Our current assessment of intermediate risk would need to account for any changes in our perceptions of the legal framework surrounding P/C insurance contracts. Negative revisions to this assessment could pressure ratings across the sector.
Absent a government backstop, enactment of such policies would likely present a solvency issue for the sector. The scale of economic disruption stemming from the pandemic dwarfs many measures of industry capital. The American Property Casualty Insurance Association estimates that current closure losses for small businesses with 100 or fewer employees are between $255 billion and $431 billion per month. A meaningful expansion of business interruption coverage would therefore quickly erode the industry's $860 billion of surplus.
What other business lines are susceptible to negative impacts of the pandemic?
A number of business lines are susceptible to "silent" pandemic coverage. We anticipate professional liability, for example, will be vulnerable to large-scale claims and legal costs once the dust settles. Considering the outbreaks observed in businesses such as nursing homes and cruise lines, we anticipate insurers will likely see compensation and litigation increase meaningfully in directors and officers (D&O) and medical professional liability lines, which have already been affected by social inflation in the past three years.
While we consider workers' compensation to be vulnerable to heightened incurred losses, we believe insurers bearing the burden of covering essential workers and first responders face manageable losses (both indemnity and medical payments), given the short gestation of the infection.
We believe large facilities and national chains deemed essential businesses could be found negligent in protecting their workers and customers, given the Centers for Disease Control's recommendations on personal protective equipment announced in early April. Exacerbating the issue, the growing availability of litigation finance makes it easier for individuals to sue. We believe the current public sentiment makes the frequency of mass litigation even more likely, which in turn would result in an increase in costs associated with the duty to defend.
The loss severity related to COVID-19 is guesswork, since casualty risk is fundamentally complex because of its link to human behavior and the legal environment, which often follow less discernible patterns. Yet there is one thing of which we're quite certain: COVID-19 will go away at some point, but social trends toward increased litigation, broader contract interpretation, a more plaintiff-friendly legal environment, and higher perceived values of claims are likely to stay for a while.
|P/C Lines/Coverages Potentially Affected|
|Business lines sensitive to pandemic||Claims condition trigger||Pandemic loss sensitivity||Direct premiums written||National top writers|
|Workers' compensation||Work-related illnesses; could be difficult to prove that illness/disease arose out of and in course of employment.||Medium||$56.1B||Travelers, Hartford, Zurich, Liberty Mutual, Chubb, Berkshire Hathaway, AIG, Old Republic, American Financial, and WR Berkley|
|Directors and officers||Successful claims would require proof of negligence in preventing transmission of disease; could be difficult to prove causation between actions of insured and infection/exposure (negligence standard).||High||$7.5B||AXA, AIG, Chubb, Tokio Marine, Travelers, CNA, Berkshire Hathaway, Fairfax, Sompo, and Zurich|
|Medical Professional Liability||Failure to follow proper prevention protocols; possible increase in claims if disease lowers number of health care professionals available to work.||High||$9.6B||Berkshire Hathaway, Doctors, CNA, ProAssurance, Norcal, Liberty Mutual, Chubb, WR Berkley, Alleghany, and AIG|
|Medical professional liability--claims made||Same as above. Protection coverage for health care professional against liability to an injured patient resulting from the professional's negligence or misconduct while providing health-related services. Liability is incurred based on when the claim is reported, regardless of when it occurred.||High||$7.1B||Berkshire Hathaway, Doctors, ProAssurance, Norcal, CNA, Liberty Mutual, Chubb, WR Berkley, Alleghany, and Markel|
|Business continuity/business interruption/extra expense loss||Claims generally require physical damage but could include the following conditions: quarantines; shutdown of health care facilities; building closures; contingent business interruption (outbreak in another location could disrupt supply chain); could also cover diminished revenue resulting from those factors.||Low||Small commercial market (total $110 bil.)--includes WCP, BOP, auto, and other lines (such as professional liability and cyber)||Hartford, State Farm, Liberty Mutual, Progressive, TRV, Farmers, Nationwide, American Family, Hanover, CNA, Cincinnati Financial, Allstate, and Chubb|
|Direct premiums written data as of year-end 2019. Source: S&P Global Ratings Research.|
How will frequency trends and announcements of premium rebates affect S&P Global Ratings' view of personal lines writer profitability?
Personal auto writers have announced the return of up to $11 billion in premiums (less than 5% of 2019 industry direct premiums written) in recognition of improved frequency at the end of March and expected improvements for April and May due to prevailing shelter-in-place restrictions. The form of the return has varied based on insurer but on average has been 15%-35% of monthly premiums.
Due to less congested roads and significantly lower miles driven, many insurers have seen upwards of 30% improvement in frequency trends. While we believe rebates will negatively affect the top line, underwriting profitability (measured by the combined ratio) should be on par with or better than 2019 levels. This view stems from our anticipation that frequency improvements will match or exceed expense increases associated with greater provisions for uncollectable premiums and premium rebates.
However, if the economy opens sooner than anticipated and activity abruptly returns to more normal levels, it would adversely affect the underwriting performance in the latter half of April and the month of May, pressuring our expectations. Moreover, we believe auto repairs could become increasingly expensive due to supply-chain disruptions.
|Rated Personal Auto Refund Plans|
|15% refunded credit to customer, $600 mil.|
|$50 payment per covered vehicle, $200 mil.|
|35% reduction for 2 months|
Cincinnati Financial Corp.
|15% for 2 months of premiums|
Farmers Insurance Exchange
|25% credit for April|
GEICO Insurance Group
|15% (of 6m policy) credited at renewal, $2.5 bil.|
Hanover Insurance Group Inc. (The)
|15% for 2 months of premiums|
Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. (The)
|15% for 2 months of premiums|
Horace Mann Educators Corp.
|15% for 2 months of premiums|
|15% for 2 months of premiums|
Liberty Mutual Group Inc.
|15% refund for 2 months of auto premium|
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.
|One-time premium refund of $50 per policy|
Progressive Corp. (The)
|20% of credit for 2 months auto premium|
Selective Insurance Group Inc.
|15% for 2 months of premiums|
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.
|25% of 2 months auto premium|
Travelers Cos. Inc. (The)
|15% for 2 months of premiums|
United Services Automobile Assn.
|20% credit on 2 month premiums|
|Source: S&P Global Ratings Research.|
For personal lines' total profitability, since many offer homeowners coverage as well, shelter-in-place orders provide some benefits, improving homeowners, renters, and special lines coverage. For example, attritional losses related to water, fire, burglary, and other damages should be limited as homeowners remain at home, preventing or curtailing losses and improving the industry's expected performance.
What types of asset stresses is S&P Global Ratings evaluating to identify those issuers most affected by current market volatility?
We previously performed a stress test on the industry (see "Robust Capitalization Makes The COVID-19 Fallout Manageable For North American Property/Casualty Insurers And Reinsurers," published March 25, 2020) to determine the impact on capital for the insurers we rate.
Our stress test focused on 'BBB' fixed-income securities and high-risk assets, including speculative-grade fixed-income securities, equities, and alternative investments. We excluded the impact to fixed securities rated 'A-' or higher because we believed the widening of spreads offset the pressure from lower interest rates. We assumed a level of asset impairment for each class as well as a rating transition rate of fixed-income securities, which we based on S&P Global Ratings' corporate default and transition study (see "2018 Annual Global Corporate Default And Rating Transition Study," published April 9, 2019). Stress factors for equities and alternative investments were comparable to those from the 2008 financial crisis (see table below).
The P/C industry began 2020 with a roughly 20% capital redundancy at the 'AA' level, of which roughly two-thirds was concentrated on the balance sheets of two issuers. This capital buffer is a key credit support against the uncertainties of current market volatility and the upcoming catastrophe season. While our stress test indicated that aggregate industry redundancy would be preserved at the 'AA' level under such an adverse scenario, we note that industry capitalization would be reduced to the 'A' level absent the inclusion of these two key issuers. In this context, even small efforts to stem the economic losses associated with state lockdowns could have a destabilizing effect on financial strength and creditworthiness in the sector.
|Asset Devaluation Stress Assumptions|
|Asset devaluation (of U.S. corporate bond return series) (%)|
|Alternative||Between (30.0) and (45.0)|
|Note: Capital charge on 'BB' and unrated fixed securities is equal. Source: S&P Global Ratings Research.|
|Stress Test Fixed-Income Transition Matrix (U.S.)|
|Sources: S&P Global Market Intelligence's CreditPro® - corporate ratings (https://www.spcreditpro.com) and S&P Global Ratings Research.|
What are S&P Global Ratings' assumptions for commercial P/C underwriters' top and bottom lines?
A great deal of uncertainty surrounds the economic impact of COVID 19, especially once the shelter-in-place restrictions are removed and people slowly start to embrace the new normal. S&P Global economists forecast an extreme decrease in GDP growth for the year, with a contraction of nearly 5.2%. Insurance premiums are highly correlated to GDP growth, although we do recognize that the industry has been experiencing positive rate momentum, albeit moderated from 2019 levels, which should offset some of the exposure contraction due to GDP growth.
Another point for us to consider is anticipated pressure from state legislative bodies to return premium for certain commercial lines of business. This would follow the lead of the California Commissioner of Insurance, who recently announced the state will pursue premium rebates for commercial multiperil, commercial liability, medical professional liability, workers' compensation, and "any other line of coverage where the measures of risk have become substantially overstated as a result of the pandemic." As a result, we can anticipate the top line shrinking by 4%-6% this year. With reduced premium volumes, we would expect expense ratios to rise modestly, given high fixed expenses that insurers won't be able to easily reduce in line with premium declines.
|Top 25 Insurers Providing Directors And Officers Policies (2019)|
|Rank||Entity name||Market share (%)||Direct premiums written (mil. $)||Direct premiums earned (mil. $)||Direct incurred loss ratio (%)|
|--||Total - top 25||95.51||7,194.0||6,447.1||57.40|
|7||Berkshire Hathaway Inc.||3.82||287.9||240.9||74.59|
|11||Great American Insurance||3.13||235.6||213.4||38.02|
|13||W. R. Berkley Corp.||2.54||191.6||163.5||72.17|
|16||Old Republic Insurance||2.18||164.1||129.7||58.11|
|25||ICI Mutual Insurance Co. A RRG||0.99||74.8||77.6||84.17|
|Notes: Based on as-reported annual NAIC statutory P/C statement filings, U.S. filers only. Rank based on information reported in Director and Officer Supplement of statutory filings. Other liability direct premiums earned include premiums from the other liability (claims-made) and other liability (occurrence) lines of business. Chart does not include directors and officers policies sold as part of a package commercial multiperil policy. Chart does not include defense cost and other allocated loss-adjusted expense.|
|Top 25 Insurers Providing Medical Professional Liability (2019)|
|Rank||Entity name||Market share (%)||Direct premiums written (mil. $)||Direct premiums earned (mil. $)||Direct loss and DCC to earned premium (%)|
|--||Total - top 25||76.92||7,426||7,284||79.8|
|1||Berkshire Hathaway Inc.||17.19||1,660||1,604||74.1|
|2||The Doctors Co.||9.53||920||902||73.4|
|6||MCIC VT (A Reciprocal RRG)||4.13||399||399||114.9|
|10||Physicians' Recpl Insurers||1.76||170||170||13.5|
|12||Controlled Risk Ins Co. of VT||1.73||167||167||84.4|
|14||Medical Mutual Holdings Inc.||1.48||143||141||59.7|
|16||W. R. Berkley Corp.||1.31||127||118||64.0|
|18||State Volunteer Mutual||1.23||119||119||59.0|
|22||Medical Mutual (MD)||0.99||95||98||35.1|
|Note: If a company's or a group's most recent period of available data is more current than the period selected for the report, that company's or group’s financials will be included in the report and industry totals as long as the company or group existed as a filing entity in the specified period. To see the most recent period for which financial data is available for companies and groups, view Coverage Information.|
|Top 25 Insurers Providing Workers' Compensation (2019)|
|Rank||Entity||Market share (%)*||Direct premiums written (mil. $)||Direct premiums earned (mil. $)||Direct loss and DCC to earned premium (%)|
|--||Total - top 25||67.50||36,530||36,680||49.9|
|6||Berkshire Hathaway Inc.||4.27||2,311||2,310||48.1|
|10||Old Republic Insurance||2.60||1,408||1,439||63.5|
|11||Great American Insurance||2.43||1,313||1,328||44.7|
|12||W. R. Berkley Corp.||2.33||1,261||1,311||51.4|
|13||State Compensation Ins Fund||2.23||1,206||1,205||44.8|
|14||Texas Mutual Insurance Co.||1.98||1,069||1,052||37.2|
|22||CopperPoint Insurance Companies||1.04||561||558||54.6|
|Notes: If a company's or a group's most recent period of available data is more current than the period selected for the report, that company's or group’s financials will be included in the report and industry totals as long as the company or group existed as a filing entity in the specified period. To see the most recent period for which financial data is available for companies and groups, view Coverage Information. *Market share information is presented on an "as is" (pro forma) basis based on current filing sector and group composition. This may affect prior-year figures resulting from changes in corporate structure or filer type (e.g., Life & Health to Health). For questions or to perform an "as was" (as reported) analysis that incorporates market share regardless of ownership changes or filer type, please contact SNL Support. Note that this does not apply to the "P&C Combined as-was view."|
S&P Global Ratings acknowledges a high degree of uncertainty about the rate of spread and peak of the coronavirus outbreak. Some government authorities estimate the pandemic will peak about midyear, and we are using this assumption in assessing the economic and credit implications. We believe the measures adopted to contain COVID-19 have pushed the global economy into recession (see our macroeconomic and credit updates here: www.spglobal.com/ratings). As the situation evolves, we will update our assumptions and estimates accordingly.
This report does not constitute a rating action.
|Primary Credit Analysts:||Lawrence A Wilkinson, New York (1) 212-438-1882;|
|Tracy Dolin, New York (1) 212-438-1325;|
|Secondary Contacts:||John Iten, Princeton (1) 212-438-1757;|
|Brian Suozzo, New York + 1 (212) 438 0525;|
|Patricia A Kwan, New York (1) 212-438-6256;|
|Stephen Guijarro, New York + 1 (212) 438 0641;|
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