Study shows Coastal Taskforce Plan requires more than 50% subsidization

The Coastal Taskforce Plan recently endorsed by several coastal politicians would require people other than TWIA policyholders massively to subsidize TWIA — perhaps paying more than 60% of expected losses from tropical cyclones. That is the result of a study I have conducted using hurricane modeling software. As shown in the pie chart below, the study shows that only about 38% of the payouts come from TWIA premiums. The rest comes 26% from Texas insurers, 21% from policyholders of all sorts in 13 coastal counties and Harris County, 8% from insureds located throughout Texas and 7% from the State of Texas itself. These figures are based on running a 10,000 year storm simulation based on data created by leading hurricane modeler AIR and obtained through a public records request.  The figures are also based on my best understanding of the way in which the Coastal Taskforce plan would operate, although certain aspects of the plan remain unclear and additional clarification would help.

Expected Distribution of Sources for TWIA Payouts Due to Losses from Tropical Cyclones

Expected Distribution of Sources for TWIA Payouts Due to Losses from Tropical Cyclones (Sharing)

Continue reading

The issues with heavy reliance on pre-event bonds

Pre-event bonds. They sound so good. And they may well be an improvement over reinsurance and other alternatives for raising money. But there is no free lunch and its worth understanding some of the issues involving with reliance on them. In short, while pre-event bonds can work if TWIA stuffs enough money annually into the CRTF — and has the premium income and reduced expenses that permits it to do so. If TWIA lacks the will or money to keep stuffing the CRTF, however, pre-event bonds become a classic debt trap in which the principal balance will grow until it becomes unmanageable. Let’s see the advantages and disadvantages of pre-event bonds by taking a look at the Crump-Norman plan for TWIA reform.

A key concept behind the Crump-Norman plan is for TWIA immediately to bulk up its catastrophe reserve trust fund (CRTF) to a far larger sum than it has today — $2 billion — and to keep its value at that amount of higher for the forseeable future. That way, if a mid-sized tropical cyclone hits, TWIA does not to resort to post-event bonds. It already has cash on hand. The problem, as the Zahn plan, the Crump-Norman plan and any other sensible plan would note, however, is that TWIA simply can not snap its fingers today and bulk up its CRTF to $2 billion without asking somebody for a lot of money. Policyholders would probably have to face a 400% or 500% premium surcharge for a year in order to do so and I can’t see the Texas legislature calling for that. But perhaps TWIA can prime the CRTF by borrowing the money from investors by promising them a reasonable rate of return (maybe 5%) and assuring investors that TWIA will be able to use future premium income to repay the bonds. Each year, TWIA commits insofar as possible to stuff a certain amount of money from premium revenues– perhaps $120 million — into the TWIA, earn interest on the fund at a low rate (maybe 2%) and pay the bondholders their 5% interest and amortize the bonds so that the bonds could be paid off in, say, 20 years. If there are no major storms, the CRTF should grow and there is no need to borrow any more money. The strategy will have worked well, providing TWIA and its policyholders with security and at a cost far lower than it would likely get through mechanisms such as reinsurance. If there are major storms, however, then the CRTF can shrink and TWIA can be forced to borrow more to pay off the earlier investors and restore the CRTF to the desired $2 billion level. The Outstanding Principal Balance on the bonds grows. And, of course, if there are enough storms, the Outstanding Principal Balance can continue to grow until it basically becomes mathematically impossible for TWIA to service the debt out of premium income. And even before that point, investors are likely to insist on higher interest rates due to the risk of default. In the end, however, TWIA is insolvent, its policyholders left to mercy rather than contract.

On what does this risk of insolvency depend? There certainly can be a happy ending. Basically it depends on three factors: (1) the amount TWIA stuffs into the CRTF each year, (2) the spread between the interest TWIA earns on the CRTF and the interest rate it pays to bondholders; and (3) the claims TWIA has to pay due to large storms. I’ve attempted to illustrate these relationships with the several interactive elements below. Of course, you’ll need to download the free Wolfram CDF Player in order to take advantage of their interactive features. But once you do, here is what I think you will see.

(1) Pre-event bonds are risky. Different 100 year storm profiles result in wildly different trajectories for the CRTF and Outstanding Principal Balances. That’s perhaps why they are cheaper than reinsurance because the risk of adverse events is borne by the policyholder (here TWIA) rather than swallowed up by reinsurer. If the reinsurance market is dysfunctional enough — as indeed I have suggested it may be in this instance — then self-insurance through pre-event bonds may indeed be preferable to alternatives.

(2) Little changes in things such as the interest rate end up making a big difference in the expected trajectories of the CRTF and Outstanding Principal Balance. For simplicity, I’ve modeled those interest rates as constants, but in reality one should expect them to change in response to macro-economic forces as well as the perceived solvency of TWIA.

(3) Little changes in the commitment TWIA makes to the CRTF matter a lot. A few percent difference ends up having the potential for a large effect on whether the Outstanding Principal Balance on the pre-event bonds remains manageable or whether they become the overused credit card of the Texas public insurance — world — a debt trap. Pre-event bonds may work better where policyholders understand that they may be subject to special assessments — unfortunately following a costly storm — in order to prevent a deadly debt sprial from resulting. So long as we want to rely heavily on pre-event bonds, laws need to authorize this harsh medicine. Ideally, careful actuarial studies should be done — by people who make it their full time job — to try and get the best possible handle on the tradeoffs between the amount put in and the risks of insolvency. The unfortunate truth, however, is that some of the underlying variables — such as storm severity and frequency — is sufficiently uncertain that I suspect no one will know the actual values with way greater certainty than I have presented.

(4) Luck helps. My interactive tool provides you with 20 different 100-year storm sets. They’re all drawn from the same underlying distribution. They are just different in the same way that poker hands are usually different even though they are all drawn from the same deck. If storms are somewhat less than predicted or the predictions are too pessimistic, pre-event bonds have a far better chance at succeeding than if one gets unlucky draws from the deck or the predictions are too optimistic. Unfortunately, as the debate over climate change shows, disentangling luck from modeling flaws is difficult when one only has a limited amount of history to examine.

[WolframCDF source=”http://catrisk.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/crtfopbcrumpnorman.cdf” CDFwidth=”550″ CDFheight=”590″ altimage=”file”]

Continue reading

More start to question subsidized insurance and coastal welfare

Today’s New York Times features a provocative article that ends up focusing on Dauphin Island off the Gulf coast of Alabama on the wisdom of using tens of billions of tax dollars to subsidize coastal reconstruction in the aftermath of storms.  Recommended reading, particularly the discussion of the little-heralded Stafford Act, which subsidizes reconstruction of government buildings.

Dauphin Island

The “A” marker shows Dauphin Island in the Gulf of Mexico off the Alabama coast

Bonds so dubious, Texas won’t even try to get them rated

People need to read with great care the document posted in the last email from the Texas Public Finance Agency.  I’m reprinting it below for convenience. Basically what it says is that the bond market is dubious about the ability of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency to pay back the $500 million it borrowed recently and, as a result, the interest rate TWIA pays will go up. The outlook is so bleak that Texas isn’t apparently even going to waste money in a futile gesture to try to get the bonds rated. The resulting increase in the interest rate isn’t in and of itself a gigantic problem — unless, of course, a surprise storm means TWIA doesn’t have the cash next summer to pay it back in full (in which event the interest rate on $500 million jumps to 8%.)

What is a huge problem, however, is the growing evidence that TWIA will be hard pressed to borrow under the existing statutory scheme the money it will need to pay back claims following a major storm.  Just to repeat, no ability to borrow, no ability to pay claims, at least not in full.  That means many households and businesses on the Texas coast who were banking on TWIA will not be able to rebuild and may not be able to pay their mortgages. If first line bondholders are demanding 8%, what higher rate are second and third line bondholders likely to demand following a storm? Conceivably the market will have more confidence in Class 3 assessments because those are paid by insurers, but I doubt they will feel any better about Class 2 assessments paid mostly by coastal policyholders than they do about the Class 1 bonds, which the market apparently does not regard as investment grade.

And those with cash are going to be able to put the squeeze on TWIA following a storm.  That’s because an additional consequence of an inability to borrow is that TWIA won’t be able to access the large reinsurance policy it spent $100 million on this year.  The reinsurance contract is written so that it doesn’t matter if TWIA is liable to pay its policyholders.  Ours, like most reinsurance policies, is an indemnity policy.  The reinsurers don’t pay until TWIA pays.  But if TWIA can’t borrow then TWIA can’t pay.  So, unless TWIA is willing to kiss a $100 million premium goodbye, it’s going to have to take what the unfeeling bond market offers.

So maybe some coastal politicians are right that we don’t need to worry much about all this because, after all, the odds of a serious storm hitting the Texas coast are just as remote as, why, a hurricane hitting New York City.  On the other hand …

A scary document from the Texas Public Finance Agency

A scary document from the Texas Public Finance Agency

Thanks again to David Crump who has brought this document to my attention.

The latest information on post-event bonding issues

David Crump [1], one of the clearer thinkers on catastrophe insurance in Texas has done some excellent work in getting information on the ability of Texas to sell post event bonds — and the likelihood that we would have to do so following a signifiant storm.  I’m reprinting his email below, putting the document from the Texas Public Finance Agency at the bottom of this post, and providing access right here to the response TWIA provided to Mr. Crump’s public information request.  Good work, Mr. Crump!

Continue reading

Reducing Maximum Residential Policy Limits

I and many others have proposed that TWIA reduce the maximum policy limits on residential properties from the current $1.8 million to some substantially lower figure as a way of reducing the likelihood of post-event bonding and insolvency. Such a reform would also have the effect of reducing subsidization of individuals who have more expensive homes than the average Texan paying for the subsidy. As shown in the recently released Alvarez & Marsal report It would also bring TWIA more in line with other coastal windstorm programs such as Alabama’s $500,000 or Florida’s $1.000,000 dwelling limit.

But, a legitimate question is how much value would this reform really create?  The case for the reform is somewhat stronger if it would reduce TWIA exposure by, say, 20% than if it would do so by just 1%.  One statistic advanced by Representative Craig Eiland (D. Galveston) is to note that only 1% of residences insured by TWIA are valued at over $1 million.  This statistic needs to be augmented, however, by an appreciation that the more valuable the residence, the more it contributes towards the risks of TWIA.  All residences should not count alike.

Data provided by TWIA permits a first stab at a better answer.  I’ve presented it in the chart below. It shows that reducing limits to $1 million for residences will have only a 1% effect on TWIA’s total insured value.  Somewhat disappointing. If we’re serious about cutting TWIA exposure, we have to dig deeper.  Going to $500,000 gets about a 5% reduction in total residential insured value.  A reduction to $250,000 (the federal flood limit) creates the big gain, reducing TWIA’s residential TIV by 29%.

TWIA exposure reduction chart

TWIA exposure reduction chart

A few more points.

1. Just because the reduction is smaller than ideal does not mean we should not do it.  Every little bit helps.  And, as I have said ad nauseum, the economic and moral case for subsidizing expensive beach homes seems rather small. It’s all the more so where we condition the continued reduction in maximum policy limits, as I have proposed, on a finding that excess insurance is available.

2. For actuarial math nerds only! The figures I’ve put up, although the best I can do with the data I have, are still not ultimately what one would want.  What really needs to be done by organizations such as AIR, RMS and others that have better access to the underlying storm data, is to determine the effect of right-censoring the loss distribution on homes on the overall distribution of losses faced by TWIA after a correlative premium reduction is taken into account.  One can then use the survival function of the transformed aggregate insured loss distribution to recompute the probability of TWIA needing to resort to various classes of securities and its risk of insolvency. My guess is that the relationship is somewhat sublinear because losses to the left of the censor point are more common than losses to the right. So, even though I am showing a healthy 29% reduction in TIV from a $250,000 cap, that will likely not reduce of TWIA insolvency by 29%.  If you asked me for a wild guess, I’d guess 15%. That’s still good. Every little bit helps.

3. The data here is one reason I really like coinsurance as a way of limiting TWIA exposure.  (See suggestion # 2 of my 10 point proposal here).  It has a more direct effect than right-censoring individual loss distributions, makes it less necessary for people to purchase multiple insurance policies, and may result in greater mitigation.

4.  In the spirit of transparency, I’m posting the spreadsheet that underlies this analysis here, along with a Mathematica notebook used to conduct the analysis.

Residential Dwellings spreadsheet

PDF of Mathematica notebook showing reduction in TIV from cap on maximum policy limits

Interactively exploring TWIA funding reform

Here’s a Wolfram CDF document that let’s you explore the reforms to TWIA funding set forth in my earlier post.  To understand it, you must read this earlier blog entry. To interact with it, you will need to go to this website and download the Wolfram CDF player.  It’s easy — very similar to PDF. Once you have the plugin, you will be able to explore fully this and future interactive content. Your CDF plugin will work on this and other blogs and the Wolfram Demonstrations site. [WolframCDF source=”http://catrisk.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/s2210355a.cdf” CDFwidth=”740″ CDFheight=”700″ altimage=”file”]

By the way, if you want to see how to produce interactive widgets like this one in a WordPress document, take a look at this excellent and short video. And, to compare the premiums suggested by this document with those actually in use by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, take a look at this document and this document.

An idea for future TWIA finance

Although they may thoroughly disagree on the direction in which reform should go, almost everyone agrees has come to agree with what I predicted in 2009:  TWIA finances are in serious need of reform.  This blog entry sketches out one direction in which TWIA might proceed.  The idea here is that TWIA should, in a steady state, have enough cash on hand in its catastrophe reserve fund to pay for insured losses and operating expenses, without having to borrow, with a high probability, say 99%.  Further TWIA should have borrowing capacity to address the rare situations (say 1% of years) in which its reserves would be inadequate. Those borrowings should be repaid by some percentage of TWIA policyholders, persons living on the coast, and Texans generally, perhaps collected through the proxy of insurers doing business in Texas.

Although people can quarrel about the precise parameters in this abstract statement of the goal, I have some hope that people could agree on the concept. Government-sponsored insurance companies that don’t have the right to draw on the government fisc, ought not to be relying heavily on post-event bonding as a way of paying claims; instead they need enough money in their piggy bank just as we require of their private insurer counterparts. But what if TWIA’s catastrophe reserve fund does not meet this lofty goal?  What then?  Especially given the magnitude of the current reserve shortfall and the current economy, matters can not be corrected overnight. There should, I say, be an adjustment period during which premiums are adjusted (either upwards or, at some hypothetical future time, downwards) such that, at the end of the adjustment period, things come into balance and the catastrophe reserve fund meets the goal.

How do we operationalize this idea? Here is the beginning of a statutory draft. I’ve put in dummy statute section numbers for ease of reference. Obviously, the real section numbers would have to be revised by legislative counsel. Also, we’re probably going to have to develop a more comprehensive process for 2210.355A(b)(1) and reconcile this provision with the alternative process currently set form in 2210.355A.

2210.355A

(a) Definitions

(1)  The “Exceedance Function for the catastrophe year” is a function that approximates the probability that insured lossses and operating expenses in the catastrophe year will exceed a specified dollar amount. Insured losses shall be computed on a net basis after consideration of any reinsurance or other sources of recovery.

(2) The term “Loss PDF” means the probability distribution function mathematically associated with the Exceedance Function.

(3) The term “Century Storm Reserve Adequacy” means having a catastrophe reserve fund at the start of each catastrophe year such that this fund would be able, without additional borrowing, to fully pay insured losses and operating expenses in the following catastrophe year with a 99% probability as computed using the Exceedance Function for the catastrophe year.

(4) The term “Reserve Adjustment Period” means ten years.

(b)

(1) The Association shall, prior to the start of each catastrophe year, use the best historical and scientific modeling evidence with considerations of standards in the business of catastrophe insurance, to determine the Exceedance Function and associated Loss PDF for the catastrophe year.”

(2) If, at any time, the Association finds that its catastrophe reserve fund at the start of a catastrophe year does not achieve Century Storm Reserve Adequacy,  the Association shall adjust the premiums to be charged in the following year either downwards of upwards as appropriate such that, were:


(A) such premiums to be charged for the Reserve Adjustment Period on the base of currently insured properties;

(B) insured losses and operating expenses of the Association to be for the Reserve Adjustment Period at the mean of the Loss PDF for the catastrophe year; and

(C) the Association were to earn on any reserve balances during the Reserve Adjustment Period the amount of interest for reasonably safe investments then available to the Association,

the catastrophe reserve fund at the end of Reserve Adjustment Period would achieve Century Storm Reserve Adequacy.

(c) By way of illustration, if the Exceedance Function takes on a value of 0.01 when the size of insured losses and operating expenses is a equal to 440 million dollars and the mean of the Loss PDF for the catastrophe year is equal to 223 million, the initial balance of the catastrophe reserve fund is 100 million dollars and the amount of interest for safe investments then available to the Association is equal to 2% compounded continuously, then the premiums charged for the following calendar year should be equal to $614,539,421.

And what happens, by the way, if a storm hits that exceeds the size of the catastrophe reserve fund?  Stay tuned.  I’ve got an idea there too.

How do we keep premiums low under this scheme?  Likewise, stay tuned.  Hint: think about coinsurance requirements and lower maximum policy limits.  Think about carrots to get the private insurance industry writing excess policies on the coast with ever lower attachment points.

  • Footnote for math nerds only. Anyone seeing the implicit differential equations in the model and the applications of control theory?
  • Footnote for Mathematica folks only. Here’s the program to compute the premium. Note the use of polymorphic functions.

p[\[Omega]_, \[Mu]_, q_, c_, r_, z_] :=
x /. First@
Solve[Quantile[\[Omega], q] ==
TimeValue[c, EffectiveInterest[r, 0], z] +
TimeValue[Annuity[x – \[Mu], z], EffectiveInterest[r, 0], z],
x];
p[\[Omega]_, q_, c_, r_, z_] :=
With[{m = NExpectation[x, x \[Distributed] \[Omega]]},
p[\[Omega], \[Mu], q, c, r, z]]

  • Footnote for statutory drafters. Note the use of modular drafting such that one can change various parameters in the scheme (such as the 10 year adjustment period) without having to redraft the whole statute.

The source of TWIA’s $800 million in cash on hand

In a previous post, I indicated that TWIA thought it would have $800 million in cash immediately available to pay claims. I was a bit skeptical of this number. But, an article in today’s Insurance Journal, a reputable trade publication, details that the money would come $300 million (0.3 billion) from real cash on hand and $500 million (0.5 billion) from a “bond anticipation note.” The latter is basically bridge financing that one can obtain quickly. The BAN would be repaid, one assumes, from Class 1 securities that TWIA would issue shortly thereafter.

Now, here’s the rub. According to the Insurance Journal article (which may not be fully reflecting what was said on this point), Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman believes that, with this BAN, TWIA would have $4 billion available to pay claims. Here’s the math. $4.15 billion = $0.3 billion real cash on hand + $0.5 billion BAN + $1 billion Class 1 + $1 billion Class 2 + $0.5 billion Class 3 + $0.85 billion reinsurance. If that’s what Commissioner Kitzman said, I have concerns because it looks like the math rests on double counting. $0.5 billion of the Class 1 securities couldn’t be used to pay claimants because it would have to be used to pay off the BAN. I am pretty confident that the BAN investors wouldn’t lend the money otherwise. Plus, according to other statements made at the last TWIA board meeting, it appears that TWIA might not be able to issue successfully the full $1 billion of Class 1 securities authorized. Readers of this blog will understand why that might be. And if all this is true, TWIA doesn’t have $4.15 billion, it has $3.15 billion. Here’s why.

$3.15 billion = $0.3 billion real cash on hand + $0.5 billion BAN + $0.5 billion Class 1 – $0.5 billion used to pay off BAN + $1 billion Class 2 + $0.5 billion Class 3 + $0.85 billion (hopefully collectible) reinsurance.

I hope we never have to figure out whether the difference in accounting is material or not. In the mean time, though, it might be prudent for TWIA and TDI to clarify the numbers.

Note: since the time of this blog entry I have had some private communications that lead me to believe the “best” number — and no one knows for sure — is probably between $3.15 and $3.65 billion.  It depends in part on how much in Class 1 securities can actually be sold.

TWIA and the quiet matter of reinsurance attachment

Could there be anything duller than a long blog entry about reinsurance attachment points? I want to argue here that there could. In fact, I want to argue here that understanding reinsurance attachment is critical to understanding the problems facing the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association — and its policyholders.

But first I must warn you of a need for some rather extensive background. You can skip ahead to the “main point,” and then come back and read the background if you prefer. Or you can just read the one sentence summary here.

The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association has selected low attachment points for its reinsurance which places the interests of Texas insurers and non-TWIA coastal insureds above the interests of its policyholders in densely populated areas of the Texas coast such as Galveston and Brazoria counties.

The Background

The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association is a state-chartered and state-regulated insurer “of last resort” for property along the Texas coast. Unfortunately, the “last resort” part has become somewhat of a joke. I won’t discuss here why this might be the case, but TWIA has for many years been the largest insurer of homes and business property on the Texas Coast.  As of April 2012, TWIA insured about $72 billion worth of property under about 260,000 policies.

So, how is this governmental creation to pay for losses?  TWIA collected about $450 million in premiums in the most recent hurricane season. But, even in a year in which Texas suffered no hurricanes and only two minimally damaging tropical storms, various expenses meant that TWIA did not add greatly to its $250 million (ish) catastrophe reserve fund.  And so, $250 million is about all that is sitting in the TWIA piggy bank available immediately to pay claims.  It might grow a bit this year, but no matter how you slice it, the catastrophe fund will not have enough money for TWIA to pay losses following many storms hitting the Texas coast.

What kind of storm does it take to cause TWIA to run out of cash  To calibrate matters, TWIA suffered losses of more than $2 billion following Hurricane Ike in 2008, which though it hit Texas in a densely propertied spot, was only a Category 2 storm. Anyone still remember Hurricane Chantal in 1989?  Track of Hurricane ChantalThat was a category 1 storm.  Experts say that if Chantal hit today, it would like cause $290 million in damages, a good chunk of which would be insured by TWIA. Or going back further, how about Hurricane Fern?  Also just a category 1 storm.  If that hit today, it would cause $500 million in damages of which TWIA would insure a high proportion.  So, it doesn’t take a monster storm to cause TWIA to run out of cash.

Beyond something like $250 million, TWIA has four sources of funds it can use before it has to confess to devastated policyholders that there isn’t enough money to pay claims fully.  The sources are stacked. Except in unusual circumstances, TWIA can’t use a source higher on the stack until it has exhausted the lower sources.

The first source is basically to take out a loan from the public.  TWIA is authorized to issue up to $1 billion in “Class 1” securities.  The owners of these “post-event bonds” get paid back by TWIA raising premiums on its policyholders.  The extra premiums get used not to protect against future hurricanes, but to pay off debts TWIA incurred because it didn’t have enough saved up to pay for a past one.

Running insurance in reverse can cause serious problems.  Purchase of TWIA policies is, after all, largely voluntary, and there are often private market competitors. If, for example, TWIA had to sell $1 billion worth of these securities and could do so at 4% with an amortization period of 10 years, TWIA policyholders would see an increase in their premiums of about 25% just to repay the borrowings.  Matters might be even worse because (a) 4% might be a low estimate given that the securities are not backed by the full faith and credit of Texas; (b) some policyholders might drop out of TWIA with a 25% increase, which would mean the remaining policyholders would face a yet-higher increase; and (c) we are talking about just one policy year here — TWIA might have to borrow yet again and charge policyholders yet more if another significant storm hit before the original Class 1 securities were paid off.

Section 2210.615 of the Texas Insurance Code

Section 2210.616 of the Texas Insurance Code. Note: no full faith and credit.

Hurricane 5 Tracking Chart

Hurricane 5 Tracking Chart

But we’re not nearly done.  After all, as proven by Hurricane Ike, Texas can certainly face storms that cause more than $1.2 billion in damages.  In fact, my own reverse engineering of work done by the two hurricane modelers on which TWIA relies, AIR and RMS, suggests that they think the annual probability of such an event is about 5% and the ten-year probability of one or more such storms occurring is about 42%. What kind of hurricane are we talking about.  “Hurricane 5” in August 1945, which hit near Port Aransas and went up the coast towards Houston, would have caused about $2.1 billion in damages if it hit today. Again, TWIA would “own” a significant portion of those damages.

So, how does TWIA cobble together more than $1.2 billion in a year?  It can borrow another $1 billion via “Class 2 Securities.”  And how are these security holders to be paid back?  Under section 2210.613 of the Texas Insurance Code it’s a 30/70 split.  Thirty percent of the debt gets paid back by TWIA “member insurers” — basically meaning any insurance company selling property/casualty insurance in Texas.  Now, in the past, insurers just fronted TWIA assessment payments; they got “paid back” via a pretty full credit against premium taxes they otherwise owed the state.  Since 2009, however, insurers really have to pay.  No tax credit to soften the blow. Presumably, therefore, up to $300 million will come partly out of the hide of private insurer shareholders and partly out of the hide of its policyholders, particularly those in Texas.Texas Insurance Code 2210.613

The remaining 70% of Class 2 repayments will be paid for by a surcharge not just on TWIA policyholders, but on anyone with virtually any form of property or casualty insurance — including automobile insurance — living in the areas TWIA protects. Thus a renter in Corpus Christi could see her automobile insurance premiums go up following a hurricane in Freeport.  So too could a small business in Harlingen which had property and liability insurance with a non-TWIA insurer.  I don’t have the data to say what percentage increase in premiums this repayment obligation would entail, but I don’t think a 5% increase in premiums for ten years would be a bad guess. And for TWIA policyholders, this increase would come on top of that required to pay off the Class 1 securities. Basically, the risk is socialized 30% throughout Texas and 70% throughout the Texas coast.

Now we get into really scary hurricanes: those that cause more than $2.2 billion in damages to TWIA.  We don’t have to talk Galveston 1900 or Carla 1961 to get there. The “Surprise Hurricane of 1943” might fit the bill.  Experts estimate this hurricane — advance information about which was suppressed due to the war — would have caused over $4 billion in damages as its winds slowed from less than105 miles per hour beating a nasty path from the Bolivar Peninsula up through the Houston Ship Channel.Damage from Surprise Hurricane of 1943

Until we introduce the complication of reinsurance — I warned you this was a long piece of background — the top of the stack is the $500 million more that TWIA has access to.  These are “Class 3 Securities” that TWIA may issue following a storm.  TWIA member insurers have to repay this tier of borrowings, which again presumably means the real cost will be borne in part by shareholders of these insurers but significantly by insureds throughout Texas from El Paso to Amarillo to Texarkana to Beaumont to Harlingen. This tier of coastal risk is almost 100% socialized. After this stack is exhausted, unless there is reinsurance, TWIA is out of money and, however much we might wish to the contrary, has no legal claim on the state or the federal government.

The Main Point

So, it’s now time to get back to reinsurance.  Under section 2210.075 of the Texas Insurance Code, TWIA can increase the amount of money it has available following a major storm (and lessen the amount it can stuff into its catastrophe fund) by purchasing reinsurance each hurricane season. It can do this quietly without legislative approval or guidance. The way reinsurance works, TWIA pays a premium to some reinsurer and, in turn, the reinsurer reimburses TWIA for certain losses that TWIA incurs.  So, for example, TWIA might have spent money so that if TWIA incurs more than, say, $2.7 billion in losses from a tropical cyclone, the reinsurer pays for certain losses above that amount.  Reinsurance thus could protect TWIA policyholders from some large losses.

But reinsurance comes in many flavors and the Texas Insurance Code does not tell TWIA what kind of reinsurance (if any) it should obtain.  A key factor that defines a reinsurance arrangement is the “attachment point.”  This is a generally stated as a dollar figure.  It’s where reinsurance inserts itself into the stack of resources available to TWIA.  If the insurer (TWIA) incurs losses that are less than the attachment point, the reinsurer pays nothing. If the losses are above the attachment point, the reinsurer pays until either all the insurer’s damages are paid off or the limits of the reinsurance policy are exhausted.  Whichever comes first. Thus, if TWIA’s reinsurance of, say, $600 million “attached” at $2.7 billion and TWIA had losses of, say, $2.6 billion in a given year, TWIA’s reinsurers would owe nothing.  TWIA policyholders would instead be paid out of the proceeds from TWIA’s catastrophe fund and the issuance of Class 1, 2 and 3 securities.

On the other hand, if TWIA had reinsurance of up to $600 million “attach” lower in the stack, at, say, $1.25 billion, the other layers of protection (Class 2 and 3) move up in the protection stack. TWIA losses would be paid first by TWIA’s catastrophe fund ($250 million), then by Class 1 securities ($1 billion), then by the $600 million in reinsurance, and then by $750 million in Class 2 securities.  The insurance industry would be spared having to repay Class 3 securities.  The diagram below recapitulates how these two attachment points affect the financial burden from hurricanes.

Diagram comparing two stacks of protection

Comparison of reinsurance attachment at $2.7 billion v. $1.25 billion

What I hope this makes clear is that the point at which reinsurance attaches distributes the cost of hurricanes among different groups.  High attachment points means that the folks ultimately responsible for Class 1, 2 and 3 securities (TWIA policyholders, Texas insurers, and coastal insureds) end up paying one way or the other for most serious tropical cyclones.  Lower attachment points tend to protect Texas insurers and coastal insureds from assessments and surcharges but do so substantially at the expense of TWIA policyholders. Thus, TWIA has the discretion under the law to decide whether it wants to place the interests of its policyholders first, the interests of the coast first, or the interests of Texas insurers first.  Not an easy choice.

But reinsurance attachment points are more important still.  This is so because the amount of reinsurance one can purchase depends heavily on the point at which reinsurance attaches.  And from a policyholder’s perspective –TWIA policyholders in Galveston, Brazoria and other heavily populated areas, take special note! — what matters is the overall height of the protection stack. Reinsurance purchased with a low attachment point buys a smaller layer (or costs more) than reinsurance purchased with a high attachment point.  You can buy more reinsurance when it has a higher attachment point because the most damaging sorts of hurricanes occur less frequently than hurricanes that cause intermediate damage.  Thus, if TWIA buys reinsurance with a lower attachment point, it provides less protection of TWIA policyholders and creates a greater risk of insolvency than when it buys reinsurance “at the top of the stack” with a higher attachment point.

To put matters as simply as possible, the higher the attachment point, the taller the stack. The taller the stack, the less TWIA policyholders (and their lenders!) in densely populated areas need worry.

To be sure, the precise relationship between the amount of reinsurance protection that can be purchased and the attachment point is a complex.  It’s tricky because the cost of reinsurance includes not just the expected losses the reinsurer faces (average loss) and some profit but also reflects the amount of money the reinsurer has to set aside to cover the worst cases.  Economically it’s almost as if there was a special tax on reinsurance purchases. Still, I believe it is reasonable to assume that the relationship looks something like the graphic below. The bottom line is that higher attachment points means significantly more reinsurance protection can be purchased for the same amount of money.

Graph showing reinsurance attachment point v. layer size

Graph showing reinsurance attachment point v. layer size

And what did TWIA do in 2011-12?  It did not purchase a reinsurance policy at “the top of the stack.”  Instead, without a lot of fanfare it purchased a policy with an intermediate $1.6 billion attachment point and got $636 million worth of protection. (I’ll have another post on why it may TWIA paid an awful lot for this policy).  TWIA thus decided, implicitly or explicitly, that saving Texas member insurers and non-TWIA coastal residents from the expense of having to pay back Class 2 and Class 3 securities was more important than providing TWIA policyholders with maximum protection.  In particular, it compromised the interests of its policyholders in the most densely populated counties: Galveston, Brazoria (and to a lesser extent Nueces and Harris) because they are the ones who could most use the extra protection high-attachment reinsurance could have purchased.

On the one hand, I understand this decision:  I have argued before that TWIA policyholders should bear most of the risk they accept by owning property or running a business on the coast.  Yes, the coast provides benefits to the rest of Texas, but, frankly so does Lubbock and so does El Paso.  But Lubbock and El Paso and most of the rest of Texas do not get to socialize their property risk onto the rest of Texas. I fully understand wanting to protect middle class Larry in Lubbock from having to subsidize insurance risk created by Gary in Galveston who owns a million dollar beach home there.

texas constitution section 3

On the other hand, I have doubts that this balancing of interests against each is one that TWIA should be undertaking.  I have doubts that coastal Brownsville in Cameron County is more important than coastal Galveston. And yet, the current scheme protects Brownsville well and Galveston less so. No one elected TWIA board members or technocrats to make this choice.  Fundamentally, then, the issue of reinsurance attachment strikes me not as a matter of “expertise” but as a matter for legislative judgment.

Balancing the interests of different parts of the coast against each other and balancing the interests of TWIA policyholders against Texas insurers and other coastal insurers is also an issue for the voters.  The voters should be able to decide through their election of representatives if they like the regime we have ended up with.  The current regime gives TWIA policyholders in sparsely populated Refugio, Kennedy and other more rural Texas counties far greater protection against hurricane risk.  There will never be a TWIA-busting $3 billion hurricane limited to Kleberg County because TWIA insures less than $500 million of property there. Moreover, partly because of the current reinsurance attachment point chosen by TWIA, the current regime insulates Texas insurers and non-TWIA coastal insureds from what would be a higher risk of assessments and surcharges. Many Texas voters might actually like that.

Subject to Texas and federal constitutional dictates about equal protection of the laws, the voters should also decide, however, through election of representatives whether they like the downside of the legal and financial regime that now exists.  The current statutory regime and its implementation should create massive insomnia among TWIA policyholders in Galveston and other densely populated counties every time their fate from a serious tropical cyclone depends on the vicissitudes of Gulf steering currents. And, while I would hate to emphasize the point, the inadequacy of coverage should make many current and future lenders in the densely populated counties anxious as well. Their collateral is at risk of being impaired following a major storm. Many voters might find it unacceptable that TWIA has gotten to choose low reinsurance attachment points that place the finances of Texas insurance companies above that of some TWIA policyholders.

It is probably too late to fix any of this for the 2012-13 hurricane season.  But tropical cyclones will not stop after this season is over.  There are plenty of storms ahead against which Texas can better and more transparently protect.

Note: I have attached here a PDF export of a Mathematica notebook exposing the calculations and diagrams underlying this post.