Home > The Body Politic > The “Free Market” is a fair-weather friend.

The “Free Market” is a fair-weather friend.

Ir seems quite likely that New Zealand will soon be joining the ranks of Japan and San Francisco, where earthquake insurance is either highly expensive, or unavailable to home owners,

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Full Story

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Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee may chest-thump and bellow till the cows come home, but if insurance companies – as Chris Ryan is suggesting – no longer consider New Zealand property a safe risk to insure against earthquakes, then he had better start taking notice.

Internationally, the insurance industry has been hard-hit after the severe floods in Queensland; two major quakes in Christchurch; and a triple-whammy in Japan; earthquake, tsunami, and atomic reactor disaster.  Insurance companies have been hard hit, as Reuters reported in March,

“Some analysts said the disaster, combined with heavy losses already suffered this year from floods in Australia and last month’s New Zealand earthquake, could push up global insurance prices, boosting insurers’ shares.

“In our view the loss will be so large that it will probably provide the trigger to ensure a re-rating of the non-life sector,” Panmure Gordon analyst Barrie Cornes wrote in a note.” Source

Climate-related disasters were also impacting on the insurance industry,

“Climate change is largely to blame for Australasia putting in almost a quarter of the world’s natural disaster insurance claims last year.

Data from major reinsurance provider Munich Re, shows that from 1980 to 2009, Australasia was responsible for 3% of natural disaster insurance claims in dollar terms. But after the Christchurch earthquake, floods in Queensland, and enormous hailstones in Melbourne and Perth, that skyrocketed to 22% last year.

Munich Re, in its own report on the deluge of natural disasters, said climate change “is real and continuing” and cited floods in Pakistan and wildfires caused by a heatwave in Russia. The Christchurch quake was not climate-change related.

Munich Re said 2010 was one of the warmest years since 1850 and featured the second-highest number of loss-related weather catastrophes since 1980, when it started keeping data.

Niwa principal climate scientist Dr James Renwick agreed that weather events like heavy rain were linked to global warming. “It’s possible part of the change since the 1980s is natural variation, but I’m sure there’s a climate change component. We know the globe has warmed and it’s well-documented that the occurrence of extreme rainfalls around the world has increased in a way that’s consistent with the climate models,” he says.

“It’s just what you’d expect – you warm things up, more moisture, more energy, more rain falls. There’s definitely a climate change component in extreme rainfalls around the world.” ” Source

So it seems a little strange that Gerry Brownlee is (a) attempting to dismiss Chris Ryan’s warnings as “scaremongering” and (b) is in denial that re-insuring properties in this country will not be a major problem in future. Of course it will be a problem! How can it not?

Insurance companies and their re-insurers have suffered billions of dollars worth of claims over the last year – $34 billion estimated for the Japanese ‘quake and tsunami, alone, according to a Bloomberg report.

Mr Brownlee should know how the free market works. After all, his party – National – espouses the doctrine of the free market as part of it’s core-philosophy.

Even as we face the prospect of the insurance industry abandoning  New Zealand households – we may be  left  to our own devices when it comes to insurance. Which may be the EQC.

Whilst the EQC is not a full-insurance company in the sense of Tower, AMI, AMP, etc, it has provided a level of protection to New Zealanders since it’s inception in 1945.

The only thing is – it’s broke. Two calamitous earthquakes in Christchurch have effectively emptied the Commission’s ‘war-chest’. Source. As John Key said in February of this year,

“”The good news part of the story is that EQC had about $6 billion before that (quake), that’s going to be exhausted, but we pay in on a continuous basis and we had significant re-insurance in the order of $5b, that will be exhausted.””  Source

Irrespective of Mr Brownlee’s futile rantings against the Insurance Council, it should be abundantly clear that in the near future we will not have the insurance cover that we once enjoyed. Those days are over.

We will have to rely on our own resources and our own ingenuity, whether we like it or not. (Most likely ‘not’, going by past experiences of Baby Boomers who like to Spend Now, Pay Later (or Never, preferably – let the kids pay). To that end, the Greens – as usual – have once again realised what must be done,

“So, it seems, the Greens were right all along – a special levy to fund the costs involved with the Christchurch earthquake still makes good sense, if only (this time around) to replenish the funds available to the Earthquake Commission. Yesterday, it became apparent that the likely cost of the Christchurch rebuild had risen by a massive $4 billion.

This blowout means the EQC couldn’t cope with an additional major disaster (ie anything costing over $2.5 billion) and the government would have to pick up the tab, directly. There are three options on the table : (a) a special levy on all taxpayers (b) a further additional charge attached to insurance premiums already expected to rise significantly, or (c) a rise in income taxes.”  – Gordon Campbell,  Source

However, in the light of Chris Ryan’s warnings, we may have to reconsider the role of the EQC to adopt a more wide-ranging, pragmatic role in earthquake and flood insurance. The EQC may have to step in where private insurers once provided a service – or else face the prospect of uninsured properties.  That would have serious consequences for current and prospective building owners.  (Banks currently insist on full insurance cover before they will consider extending a mortgage over a property.)

Once upon a time, we owned an insurance company called – quite simply – State Insurance.   State Insurance was sold in June 1990 by the Bolger-led, National  government of the day.

It now seems that may have been a mistake (as most asset sales were). The people of this country may yet discover that the Free Market is a Fair Weather friend and when times are tough, we will  have to step up and put in place our own, Very Kiwi Solution(s).

The time for a new State-owned insurance company – “EQC-Plus” –  has come.

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  1. Red
    30 September 2011 at 12:45 pm

    So without insurance how will Christchurch people be able to re-build? I don’t get this.

    • fmacskasy
      30 September 2011 at 4:21 pm

      That’s pretty much the point, Red. Without insurance, no bank will lend a mortgage over a property. It means that unless the government can come up with an alternative, then Cantabrians will have very few choices. They may end up moving away from the city.

  1. 28 March 2015 at 8:02 am

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