The op-ed I just pulled

As discussed in the previous post, Governor Rick Perry decided today not to add windstorm insurance to the agenda for a special session of the Texas legislature.  Among the lesser effects of this decision is that it moots out an op-ed piece I had pending with the Austin American Statesman. Here’s what I would have said and why I have problems with the Governor’s decision.

The op-ed

Texas Can’t Wait Much Longer for Windstorm Insurance Reform:

By Seth J. Chandler

This hurricane season is looking very bad for property owners on the Texas Gulf Coast.  That’s not just because climate experts are predicting more storms than average but also because the coast’s largest windstorm property insurer, the state-sponsored Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA), is on the edge of insolvency.  Unfortunately, Texas Governor Rick Perry hasn’t been able to get from “certainly possible” to an urgent “yes” in answering calls to add windstorm insurance reform to the agenda for a special session of the Texas legislature.

The problem with waiting is that TWIA is broke and its funding model is broken. As it stands there may end up being only a paltry $1 billion to pay claims. That sum is inadequate to cover the $2 billion or far higher losses that might be sustained when an insurer with $80 billion in potential exposure collides with a Category 2 or higher storm. And for every day that now goes by with no special session and no bill passed by a two thirds majority of both Houses, that’s one more day deeper into this hurricane season in which the Texas coast is at risk.  Indeed, given the interdependencies in the Texas economy, an inability of TWIA to pay claims would place the entire state economy in jeopardy.

Why such little cash?  As a result of dubious management, underfunding before Hurricane Ike, and 2009 legislation that cut off TWIA’s former ability to soak Texas insurers and inland policyholders for large losses, TWIA just didn’t have what it took to shrug off Hurricane Ike claims. And, given the way it currently spends money and the modern risk of hurricanes to an ever developing Texas coast, TWIA’s premiums just aren’t enough to let it escape a cycle of perpetual underfunding. The situation is sufficiently bad that the Texas Insurance Commissioner wouldn’t even let TWIA prop itself up by borrowing $500 million now, ahead of a storm.

Borrowing after a storm — the current plan — is likewise in doubt. Soundings of the market suggest little appetite to lend TWIA money based on shaky sources of repayment such as massive surcharges on TWIA policyholders. And a bug inserted into the law as the 2011 session makes things worse. The inability of TWIA to market bonds at one level is likely to prevent it from marketing bonds — even ones that might otherwise be salable — at other levels.

Texas legislators wrestled this session with numerous fixes but the result was impasse. Disagreements about how much of a subsidy inland Texans should provide TWIA insureds, coupled with the time-tested Texas tangle about damages in lawsuits against insurers, meant that few bills could escape committee and no bill actually made it to a vote.

What could break the impasse? Coastal legislators must recognize that it is simply not sustainable to keep the market out forever and ask inland insureds, who have problems of their own, to pay heavily and in perpetuity for the special risks found on the Texas coast. It doesn’t matter whether that is done directly with surcharges or indirectly through assessments or forcing insurers to sell policies at a major loss along the coast. The alternative of providing coastal insureds with lower-priced insurance that does not pay when the time comes does their coastal constituents no favors.  Inland legislators must recognize that it will take some time to wean the coast off the existing system.  And everyone should realize that the law about how much “extracontractual damages” victims of insurer misconduct should receive does not matter all that much when the insurer can not pay even its contractual obligations. If a long term solution can not be reached, at least bugs in the current statute can be eliminated.

Pity the Governor and Texas legislators who, after a storm leaves blue tarps on unpaid policyholders roofs and forces inland Texans to pick up the pieces, explain that they were awaiting the perfect time for legislative action or holding out for something a little better.

 

Perry to Coast: No Special Session on Windstorm

It looks like the Texas Coast and the rest of Texas is going to have to live with the deeply troubled public insurance scheme now in place for windstorm risk along the Texas coast.  That’s because Texas Governor Rick Perry announced today that he will not be adding any more items to the agenda for a special session of the Texas legislature.  His decision, coupled with the inability of the Texas legislature to agree  on any sort of reform, has the potential to wreak havoc.  There is a major risk — best estimated at about 20% — that the largest insurer on the Texas coast, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association,  will fail at some point during the 2013 and 2014 hurricane seasons. Such a failure would leave policyholders with unpaid claims and consequent difficulty undertaking repairs. It would force the rest of Texas to choose between an expensive bailout that could have been avoided or forcing people on the Coast to reap the consequences of decisions sown by their political leaders that they failed vigorously enough to oppose in a sensible way.

CBS news in Dallas provides the following explanation of the decision.

Governor Rick Perry said Thursday he won’t be adding any more items to the special legislative session, noting that with just 12 days to go, there’s too little time left for lawmakers to handle a larger workload. *** Originally, the agenda only included approving new voting maps for congressional and legislative elections. But Perry this week added passing funding for major transportation infrastructure projects, mandatory life sentences for teens convicted of murder and even the thorny issue of further restricting abortion in Texas to the agenda.   “I think everything that can be added to the call has been added to the call from the standpoint of a timing issue,” he said after signing the so-called “Merry Christmas Bill,” which sailed through the Legislature and protects the rights of students and teachers to use religious greetings and symbols in public schools statewide.

This is not the post in which to assess blame, though I promise one is coming. It is, instead, a time for sadness and reflection.  What is wrong with our state and our leadership that we can not manage to fix a relatively basic problem?

Premium Finance Issues

It won’t take a major storm for the repercussions of today’s decision to be felt.  Already there are mutterings and possibly action among some insurance premium finance companies that they will not loan people money to purchase TWIA policies. The finance companies don’t want to get stuck with unpaid claims for premium refunds in the event TWIA is placed into insolvency proceedings.

Lending Issues

 

Although the band may play on for a little while longer, lenders along the coast are also going to face  a difficult reality.  Sober lenders will likely start taking a serious look at the extent to which they want to lend money on the basis of collateral (homes, businesses) that are insured on TWIA paper but that be little more than a pile of unrepaired sticks and an expensive claim in state receivership proceedings following a significant storm. And, with the failure of legislative action to correct the problem, new Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber will face difficult decisions. She has to decide whether to place TWIA right now into some sort of insolvency proceedings so that its limited funds are not further siphoned off.  She also has to decide whether to reverse the decision of her predecessor to deny TWIA the ability to borrow money to raise cash.

Psychological Issues

 

And there is yet another consequence lilkely to be felt soon.  When you are uninsured or incompletely insured, it does not take an actual loss to cause great stress.  Informed people, particularly in the densely populated areas of the Texas coast such as Galveston where the affects of a TWIA insolvency are most likely to be felt, are going to lose a lot of sleep this summer.  The glimmer of hope that things would get fixed either during the regular legislative session or during a special session has just evaporated. Now, every time something enters the Gulf of Mexico, our friends on the coast with TWIA policies  have to worry not just about the emotional and financial losses that inevitably come from storm loss. They also have to be concerned about the significant possibility that their losses may not be as insured as they hoped. They have to worry that they may be living under a blue tarp (or worse) for a very long time.

Is there a ray of hope?

Only a sliver. It was important that TWIA got reinsurance that attached at a low value.  That appears to have happened.  But that (still expensive) reinsurance will do limited good if TWIA can’t sell its bonds after a storm to raise cash. If not, there will be a large gap between TWIA cash and the reinsurance. Maybe we will learn something about that possibility soon.  One of the many problems with post-event bonds as a vehicle for catastrophic risk transfer, however, is that you can’t tell for sure whether you will have enough money to pay claims until those dark days following the catastrophe.

How much will TWIA pay on losses?

How much will TWIA pay on losses? With the information about reinsurance discussed yesterday, we now have a pretty good sense of what the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association’s finances are going to look like this summer. This lets us build an interactive property insurance calculator for Texas. Yes, if there’s a special session, all of this could change, but unless there is a special session and the bill that emerges out of it passes by a two thirds vote of both Houses, it won’t take effect until deep into this hurricane season anyway. So, in the mean time, what I’m about to show should be quite useful. It’s an interactive property insurance calculator for Texas that lets you see how much your claim against TWIA might be worth.

If you install a CDF player, which you can get for free right here, you will have an interactive widget appear below that produces a pie chart showing the percent of claims that TWIA will be able to pay (green) and the percent that it will not (red).  You get to vary the size of the Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund, the amount of Class 2 (or Class 2 alternative bonds) TWIA will sell, and, if all the Class 2 bonds are sold, the amount of Class 3 bonds that will sell.  You also get to choose the size of the loss TWIA will face. Or, if you want to watch a movie that shows how the percentages are affected by varying these parameters, click the little arrow in the top right of the widget. The output is an easy to read pie chart that shows how much TWIA will be able to pay.

[WolframCDF source=”http://catrisk.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/twia-cents-on-the-dollar.cdf” width=”600″ height=”515″ altimage=”http://catrisk.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Screenshot_6_7_13_12_24_PM.png” altimagewidth=”553″ altimageheight=”580″]

For those who don’t want to install a CDF player, here’s a snapshot showing some sample output.

An example of how much TWIA might pay: output from the interactive property insurance calculator for Texas

An example of how much TWIA might pay

Good news: TWIA looks to have reinsurance for this summer

According to industry publication The Insurance Insider, TWIA has secured the rights to $1 billion in reinsurance attaching at $1.7 billion.  TWIA also has the option of instead obtaining a larger $1.25 billion in reinsurance but with a higher $2.2 billion attachment point.  Both policies apparently cost about the same, likely around $100 million or about 23% of TWIA’s available cash. Purchase of the reinsurance, while helping to protect the struggling state-sponsored insurer for this summer, will, however, reduce TWIA’s ability to increase its internal Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund. Purchase will thus keep Texas’ largest coastal windstorm nsurer dependent on this expensive form of protection.

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Texas Public Finance Authority: Class 1 Bonds Won’t Sell

Thanks to a friend, we have new evidence today about how much money TWIA hopes to have to pay claims this summer.  The Texas Public Finance Authority, which has to deal with sober realities like the bond market, told the TWIA board back in March that its Class 1 post-event bonds won’t sell.  Since Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman blocked issuance of pre-event bonds that TWIA sought as a substitute, that means that in the very best case, TWIA will have about $2.7 billion.  But even this rests on a House of Cards argument that is likely to topple and leave TWIA policyholders in the lurch.  Here’s why.

The document in question are the minutes of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association meeting of March 21, 2013. It sheds some light on TWIA’s own thinking at that time about how much money it was going to have to pay claims. The first clue is contained in the excerpt below.

TWIA board minutes

TWIA board minutes acknowledging reinsurance would attach at $1.8 billion

Notice how TWIA says that if it does not approve — or, one assumes, is denied permission to get — the $500 million Bond Anticipation Note — the reinsurance would attach at $1.8 billion. Now why would TWIA pick such a low number?  In the past they have spoken about reinsurance attaching at around $3 billion.  The next excerpt explains it.  It rests on the advice of Bob Coalter, Executive Director of the Texas Public Finance Authority. Look at this excerpt.

Texas Public Finance Authority: Post-event Class 1 Bonds are doubtful

Texas Public Finance Authority: Post-event Class 1 Bonds are doubtful

“Mr. Coalter stated that TWIA could not reasonably rely on $500 million in class 1 bonds if the Association waited for post-event approval.” That’s prety clear. And it’s why, I am confident, why TWIA sought the pre-event Bond Anticipation Notes. And it explains very well the $1.8 million attachment point for the reinsurance.  TWIA likely thinks it will have $300 million in its Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund and operating expenses; that’s a number that has been batted around in conversation.  It thinks it will have $1 billion in Class 2 Alternative Bonds under section 2210.6136 added by H.B. 4409 in 2011.  And it thinks it will have $500 million in Class 3 Bonds. That totals $1.8 billion, which is precisely where the reinsurance would attach.

So, if TWIA could get, say, $900 million of reinsurance for its authorized $100 million to attach at $1.8 billion, it would have $2.7 billion to pay claims this summer, one Ike’s-worth.  So, with some rounding, it could, I suppose be said that TWIA has $3 billion, but that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

In any event, let us not, however, quibble about a trifling $300 million.  Let’s instead focus our energies on scrutiny of TWIA’s logic of even thinking that it will have the $1.8 billion in funds at which the reinsurance could attach.  I say that the very reasons the TPFA is giving TWIA for why TWIA’s Class 1 Bonds won’t sell apply almost equally to the Class 2 Alternative Bonds.  Why?  See the next paragraph. In the mean time, recognize that the Class 3 bonds can not legally be sold unless TWIA/TPFA can sell $1 billion of Class 2 Alternative Bonds. If TPFA can only sell, say, $600 million in Class 2 Alternative Bonds, then TPFA can not sell Class 3 Bonds at all, and TWIA’s funding stack would be $900 million, not $1.8 million.  Yes, TWIA might have reinsurance that attached at $1.8 million, but for losses between $900 million and $1.8 million there would be no money. So, for a $1.5 million storm, TWIA would only have enough money to pay policyholders 60 cents on the dollar ($300 million in CRTF + $600 million in Class 2 Alternative Bonds all divided by $1.5 million in claims). And for a $3 billion storm, TWIA would likewise have 60 cents on the dollar. ($300 million in CRTF + $600 million in Class 2 Alternative Bonds + $900 million in reinsurance all divided by $3 billion in claims).

Why the Class 2 Alternative Bonds Are Almost As Bad As The Class 1 Bonds

OK, so why do I say — and why by the way did TWIA suggest in its report to the legislator — that the Class 2 Alternative Bonds are problematic?  Why did several bills in the legislature this session seek to abolish them?  Because their repayment source is largely the same problematic mammoth levy on TWIA policyholders that they might not well be able to pay. Here is section 2210.6136(b) of the Texas Insurance Code. It’s the key to understanding the urgency in calling a special session of the Texas legislature.

(b)  The commissioner shall order the repayment of the cost of Class 2 public securities issued in the manner described by Subsection (a) as follows:

(1)  in the manner described by Section 2210.612(a), in an amount equal to the lesser of:

(A)  $500 million; or

(B)  that portion of the total principal amount of Class 1 public securities authorized to be issued under Section 2210.072 that cannot be issued, plus any costs associated with that portion;

 

So, if the “portion of the total Principal amount of Class 1 public securities … that can not be issued” is, as TWIA itself has been told likely to be well north of $500 million, then the first $500 million of the Class 2 Alternative Bonds described in section 2210.6136 are to be paid off in the “manner described by Section 2210.612(a)” of the Texas Insurance Code.  But what section 2210.612(a) calls for is for the bonds to be paid out of TWIA premiums: “The association shall pay Class 1 public securities issued under Section 2210.072 from its net premium and other revenue.” And it is precisely because potential lenders have indicated their doubts that TWIA premiums could sustain the amortization payments that TWIA has been told it can’t sell the Class 1 bonds. I don’t see any reason why the market would be any more trusting of bonds that have “Class 2” labeled on them when they won’t buy similarly sourced bonds with a “Class 1” label on them.

What we have then is, as I said, a House of Cards. In order for TWIA to even have $2.7 billion in its stack, here is what would have to happen: (1) before a storm, TWIA gets $900 million in reinsurance that attaches at $1.8 billion; and (2) after a storm, all $1 billion of the Class 2 Alternative Bonds sell notwithstanding their problematic repayment source. If I were a betting man, I would not place the odds of that House of Cards staying intact very highly.  And when it tumbles, it will not be only be TWIA policyholders on the Texas coast who get hurt, but the economy of Texas as well.

Footnote for Experts

Some might object to my analysis on grounds that the repayment sources for the Class 2 Alternative Bonds set forth in section 2210.6136 are not identical to those set forth for the Class 1 bonds.  That’s true, but I don’t think it matters.  Read 2210.6136(b) carefully.

(2)  after payment under Subdivision (1), in the manner described by Sections 2210.613(a) and (b), in an amount equal to the difference between the principal amount of public securities issued under Subsection (a) and the amount repaid in the manner described by Subdivision (1), plus any costs associated with that amount.

 

The first $500 million in Class 2 Alternative bonds come from TWIA revenue (premiums). As the passage I’ve highlighted indicates, it’s only after that first $500 million is exhausted — and TWIA pays what some likely thought was its fair share — that others have to chip in.  Someone from those other payors (coastal non-TWIA policyholders and, more likely, the insurance industry) negotiated for that in 2011. The fact that those higher in the stack have money to pay won’t give any comfort to lenders who depend in substantial part on the dubiously sourced lower part.  And this is why I persist in saying that if the Class 1 Bonds can’t be sold, the Class 2 Alternative Bonds are in serious jeopardy too.

 

 

Thanks, Andrea, for heading East while we dither

So, the season’s first tropical cyclone has formed, Andrea.  Fortunately for Texas, the computer models appear in agreement that this one is heading to poor old Florida.  And a good thing too for Texas.  Because, while Governor Perry considers whether to add windstorm reform to the agenda for a special session of the Texas legislature and its members possibly see if they could get close enough to an agreement to make such a session fruitful, Mother Nature is not waiting.  So, could we treat Andrea as a shot over the bow? This year’s tropical storm season has gotten off a bright and early start.

Weather Underground Map of Andrea

Tropical Storm Andrea: Apparently not headed for Texas

 

 

I answer a reader’s question about Bond Anticipation Notes

One of the nice things about WordPress is that it tells you what searches are being used to find your blog.  For whatever reason, I’ve been getting a bunch of searches recently that ask who pays — or would have paid — for the $500 million class 1 Bond Anticipation Notes (BAN) issued to cover windstorm losses in Texas. So, let’s answer that question.

The short answer is that TWIA policyholders would have been obligated to repay the loan, with interest.

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TWIA Cash Position Not Improving

 $443 million in cash and short term assets

In a recent blog entry, I attempted to estimate the amount of cash the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association had in its operating account.  I said TWIA’s cash position was likely to be between $400 million to $700 million after the recent Ike settlement of $135 million was taken into account. Thanks to a public information request from Fox 26 TV’s Greg Groogan we now have a better fix.  If anything, I was a little optimistic.

TWIA has $443,453,000 in cash and short term investments, little changed from its position at the start of the year.  Its assets are down to $444,342,000.  But those figures are before  consideration of the $135 million Ike settlement, the so-called “Mostyn settlement.” They are also before TWIA spends an anticipated $100 million or so (in cash) on reinsurance, The figures are both from the end of April, 2013. If funding of the Ike settlements comes from operating funds or TWIA succeeds in obtaining reinsurance, that figure will likely be lower shortly.  If the Ike settlement instead comes from the Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund, that $180 million fund will be significantly depleted.

The rest of the story on the TWIA cash position and finances

There are at least two other pieces of information that will be useful in assessing TWIA’s position as hurricane season moves forward. They may also help Governor Perry get from “certainly possible” to “yes” in considering requests that he convene a special session of the Texas legislature to address windstorm insurance reform.  What happened to the effort to spend $100 million or so on reinsurance?  Did they acquire it and on what terms?  Second, what has happened to the effort to prepare for post-event bonding now that former Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman authorized TWIA to do so?  Unless both of those efforts are particularly successful, however, I stand by my assertion that TWIA may well have little more than $1 billion in actual cash to pay claims on $80 billion worth of exposure. Moreover, the reinsurance doesn’t do as much good as it could, if TWIA can’t sell all of its authorized post-event bonds.

So, in this case, no news — or no new news — is bad news. If something like Hurricane Ike hit — a Category 2 storm in a populated area — TWIA policyholders might get only 40 cents or so for each dollar of legitimate claims. There would be no protection from the Texas Property & Casualty Guaranty Association. There would be no lawful obligation of the state to help out. Instead Texas would be left with a hope.  Perhaps the state legislature would meet swiftly and agree on a plan (with a 2/3 majority) to come up with billions of dollars  to help bail out a devastated coast.  As I recently said to reporter Groogan in response to Senator Larry Taylor’s understandable expression of such a hope:  “Good Luck.”

Footnote 1: Say what one will about TWIA and its history, I have again found them to be responsive over the past year to public information requests.  That helps build some trust.

Footnote 2: Remember State Representative Craig Eiland’s claims that TWIA could and should assess insurers today for Hurricane Ike losses and buttress in Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund?  I’ve found a longer statement of his position here.  It’s such a mixed picture.  On the one hand,  outgoing Representative Eiland has great information on the timeline. He presents a forceful case that TWIA had the information that would have justified a larger assessment on the insurers for Ike under the old law before a 2009 law took effect.  He is right that TWIA would look a lot stronger today with $780 million in its CRTF rather than the $180 million it has today. What Representative Eiland still lacks, however, is any legal theory under which such an assessment could occur today.  As has been discussed here at length, the law under which assessments were authorized was repealed — Representative Eiland sadly joining others who voted to do so.