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2011 Second-Costliest Year for Insured Catastrophic Losses

Had Japan been more fully insured for earthquakes, 2011 would have set a record for insured catastrophe losses. As it stands, 2011 will see approximately $108 billion in insured manmade and natural catastrophe losses, second only to 2005, when insured catastrophe losses reached $123 billion, according to a Swiss Re sigma analysis.

The total for 2011 far outpaces 2010, which saw $48 billion in insured catastrophe losses.

Of the $108 billion in 2011, Swiss Re says $103 billion resulted from natural catastrophes, compared to $43 billion in 2010.

Swiss Re says this year will set a record for economic losses, with an estimated figure of $350 billion. In 2010, economic losses were $226 billion.

Two earthquakes led the way for costliest insured disasters in 2011, with the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan causing an estimated $35 billion in insured losses, and the Feb. 22 earthquake in New Zealand causing around $12 billion in losses.

Swiss Re notes that the insured losses in Japan were “only a fraction of the total losses.” The sigma study notes that total economic losses are estimated to be at least $210 billion; perhaps much higher once damage to nuclear facilities and disruption to worldwide supply chains are included.

Swiss Re contrasts the difference in insured and economic losses in Japan with those in New Zealand, where earthquake-insurance penetration is high. In New Zealand, economic losses are estimated at $15 billion, just $3 billion higher than insured losses.

Severe storms in the U.S. account for half of the year’s top-10 costliest insured disasters. April 22 storms that mostly affected Alabama placed highest on the list with $7.3 billion in estimated insured losses, good for the fourth-costliest catastrophe. The storms beginning on May 20 that spawned the Joplin tornado days later placed fifth on the list with $6.7 billion in estimated losses.

Three other storm systems in April accounted for the 8-10 spots on the list.

Floods in Thailand stemming from heavy rain that began in July and continued to November placed third on the list, with estimated losses ranging from $8 billion to $11 billion.

Hurricane Irene, with estimated losses of $4.9 billion, also made the list at sixth-costliest for the year.

January flooding in Australia placed seventh on the list, with estimated insured losses of $2.3 billion.

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