Thai Reinsurance Expects 2012 Loss from Floods

By Khettiya Jittapong and Manunphattr Dhanananphorn | March 8, 2012

Thai Reinsurance Pcl expects to post a net loss for a second year in 2012 as the country’s leading reinsurer is hit by higher provisions from flooding last year that have pushed up insurance premiums for natural disasters, a top executive said.

Thai Re had estimated flood-related damage at 10-14 billion baht ($325-$455 million), of which about 6 billion [$196 million] was booked last year, Chief Executive Surachai Sirivallop told Reuters.

“The floods will continue to affect us this year. No-one knows the exact number, but we should make a loss for another year and we should make a profit next year,” Surachai said in an interview.

The company reported a net loss of 1.66 billion baht [$54 million] for 2011, the first since it was founded 33 years ago.

Excluding the flood impact, Surachai said, the company made a profit of 1.03 billion baht [$33.73 million], mainly due to rising premiums from life insurance and rising fee incomes from insurance services.

He said Thai Re’s net premiums were expected to rise at a double-digit rate this year, but not as high as last year’s surge of 30 percent in life insurance premiums and 45 percent in non-life insurance.

In December, Standard & Poor’s downgraded Thai Re to reflect its risk exposure to last year’s floods, which severely affected seven industrial estates in central Thailand and caused supply disruptions for the global auto and electronic sectors.

A Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S survey had expected the company to post a net profit of 676 million baht [$22.13 million] for 2012.

Some analysts said the company should benefit from higher premium rates and increased demand for reinsurers because operators need insurance to protect assets from unexpected events despite rising insurance costs.

The insurance sector was estimated to post a loss of up to 350 billion baht [$11.5 billion] from flood-related claims, with local insurers hesitant to sell to companies with operations in flood-hit areas, Surachai said.

Premiums have risen more than two-fold since the floods to levels higher than in other natural disaster-prone countries such as Japan, where insurers take into account greater risk from human error, Surachai said.

“Thailand is seen as a high-risk country after being low-risk for many years, and risk premiums have jumped more than two-fold. Natural catastrophes may occur once in 100 years, but human error can happen at any time,” Surachai said, referring to criticisms of the government’s management of last year’s flooding.

Thai Re is in the process of selling a 21 percent stake to Canada-based Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd for 2.23 billion baht [$73 million] as part of a plan to raise about 7 billion baht [$230 million] from a share offer to boost capital and cover flood-related losses.

“This will be enough to cover flood-related insurance claims and expand our business,” said Surachai, an industry veteran and former executive of Hong Kong-based AIG Reinsurance.

He added that Fairfax, which already owned 4 percent of Thai Re, would have two board members but would not have a management role.

Surachai said he expected to see some consolidation in Thailand’s insurance sector to maintain competitiveness as the country is due to liberalize its financial sector in 2015.

“We are not keen to merge with others. We are strong enough to compete in the domestic market,” he said, adding that some smaller Thai insurers may not survive given their higher operating costs than foreign rivals.

At the midday trading break, Thai Re shares were down 2.75 percent after falling 4.4 percent to two-week low of 3.48 baht [$0.114]. The broad index was 0.9 percent higher.

(Editing by Chris Lewis)

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