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Increase in P/C Insurers’ Losses in 2017 Will Again Be Driven by Auto

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Private auto net incurred losses will increase by nearly 7 percent in 2017 to a new record of approximately $154 billion, reflecting elevated volume and costs of claims, according to a new S&P Global market outlook.

According to the U.S. Property & Casualty Insurance Market Report by S&P Global Market Intelligence, auto losses soared by 13 percent in 2016 due to unfavorable claims experience for the underwriters, leading carriers to broadly pursue rate increases. Those rate increases are expected to lead to higher premiums for consumers in the near term but will also lead to gradual improvement in the profitability of the business.

“Though underwriting results in many business lines will deteriorate in 2017, we expect the P&C industry to produce only a modest underwriting loss for the year,” said Tim Zawacki, senior insurance research analyst, S&P Global Market Intelligence. “Needed rate increases for the personal and commercial auto businesses will begin to positively impact industry results in 2017. We expect additional improvement in those lines to take place over the next several years.”

Technological innovations may result in sweeping changes for the industry and consumers over the long term. But in the meantime, as a result of more time spent on the road by U.S motorists, and historically high loss ratios experienced by the industry in 2016, insurers have been filing for rate increases and consumers should expect to pay higher auto insurance premiums, according to the report.

S&P’s report offers additional findings:

  • AIG’s large reserve charge and unprecedented reinsurance deal with Berkshire Hathaway set the stage for improved and less volatile financial results for the company. At the industry level, normalized results for AIG should help offset expected erosion in underwriting profitability for several commercial lines of business.
  • Competition for business remains high, with soft market conditions prevailing in most non-auto lines in a time of robust industry capitalization. But S&P expects only slow improvement in investment returns from 2016’s historically low result, which should encourage continued underwriting discipline.
  • S&P Global Market Intelligence projects an industrywide 2017 combined ratio of 100.7 across business lines in 2017, a slight increase from 2016. It projects a combined ratio of 103.0 for all personal lines, with personal auto at 105.9 and homeowners at 95.8.
  • For all commercial lines, the projected 2017 combined ratio is 97.3, including 94.1 for workers compensation and 110.2 for commercial auto.
  • Projected growth in direct premiums of 4.3 percent would represent an increase from 2016 levels, reflecting higher personal (7.8 percent increase) and commercial (6.9 percent increase) auto rates.
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