Texas Insurance Commissioner still mulling bond anticipation notes

Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber has not reached a decision yet on whether to accede to the request of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association and others that she overturn the refusal of her predecessor Eleanor Kitzman to borrow about $500 million to help pay any claims that the financially troubled insurer might have  this summer. A response by TWIA to a public information request states that “TWIA is working with the Texas Department of Insurance and the Texas Public Finance Authority to explore all funding options, including the BAN [bond anticipation notes].” According to TWIA, it has not heard anything further from lenders about whether they are still willing, in light of rising market interest rates, to enter into a BAN deal on the same terms as they apparently were this spring. The failure to obtain a reversal likely means, as TWIA Board Member Alice Gannon candidly acknowledged at a June board meeting, that TWIA would not be able to pay many claims in timely fashion should a significant storm occur during the remainder of the 2013 hurricane season.

Although Commissioner Rathgeber has not made a decision yet, in some sense the absence of a decision comes close to an upholding of her predecessor’s determination. One of the touted advantages of the BAN had been that it would have permitted TWIA to purchase reinsurance that attached at $2.2 billion of losses and provided an extra $250 million worth of reinsurance. Right now, the attachment point on its $1 billion of reinsurance stands at $1.7 billion, creating what TWIA hopes (unrealistically perhaps) is a $2.7 billion stack of protection. But the election to go to the higher level attachment point appears to have expired on July 15.  So, unless a new deal with the reinsurers can be struck, that advantage of pre-event borrowing seems to have disappeared. Moreover, it is not clear that a bond anticipation note can be obtained on the same terms as were available in the spring when interest rates were lower. Renegotiating the terms of a BAN will take some time even if Rathgeber ultimately overturns the decision in whole or in part.  (I say in part because some of the arguments against a BAN have less force if the amount borrowed were, say $100-$200 million rather than $500 million). Each day that goes by with the Kitzman decision in force is a day deeper into the heart of hurricane season in which TWIA is particularly vulnerable.

One possible reason for the Rathgeber delay is the relationship between the BAN and the desire of many to shrink TWIA. Many believe that TWIA’s problems would be more manageable if it’s maximum exposure were reduced to the levels that existed before Hurricane Ike or even earlier. They believe TWIA’s problems become progressively more intractable as ever more people develop the Texas coast based on an assumption of continued subsidized rates.  If TWIA borrows money that requires it to repay various fixed sums, it is going to depend on its premium base not shrinking much.  Indeed, if I were a lender I might want various covenants protecting me from a depopulation of TWIA. I would at least price that risk into the interest rate charged. Borrowing money via a bond anticipation note therefore makes it more difficult for any special session of the legislature to develop a plan substantially to reform TWIA.  Thus, although the prospects of such a special session on windstorm insurance reform seem rather dim at present, Governor Perry has not taken it entirely off the table. Commissioner Rathgeber, who likely has her pulse on the mood of the legislature and the governor, may well be balancing the timing of any decision with beliefs on the prospects for reform.

Great news or the calm before the storm?

Great news or the calm before the storm?

Of course, the one good piece of news is that the Gulf of Mexico has, contrary to most predictions, been quiet so far this summer. As a result, TWIA’s financial situation has not been tested. Indeed, it should be running a solid profit for the past few months. Unfortunately, someone might have made the same observation about the first half of the tornado season in the midwest this spring.  Remember all those articles expressing puzzlement about where all the tornados were?  You can find some here, here and here. As residents of Granbury, Texas, Moore, Oklahoma, El Reno, Oklahoma and others can attest, however, predictions about long run climactic events can not be based on a few months of experience. Whether or not TWIA gets to borrow $500 million or some lesser some based on a decision later this summer by Commissioner Rathgeber, the state and TWIA’s policyholders need to hope that Hurricanes 2013 is not like Tornados 2013 in which all was quiet for the first half of the season, only to see historically devastating outbreaks during the second half.

News from the TWIA board meeting

I’ll have a fuller post later and the meeting is still in progress (in closed session), but here are the headlines thus far.

1. A TWIA board member (Alice Gannon, I believe) acknowledges that if TWIA does not get new Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber to reverse a decision of her predecessor refusing to authorize $500 million in borrowings via a Bond Anticipation Note, TWIA will not have money to pay claims promptly in the event of even a modest storm.  I do not have an exact quote, but at minute 46 of the hearing she says something to the effect of “Without the BAN, it is highly likely we would not be able to pay claims in timely fashion.” Other board commentary indicates it will take 3 to 6 months to sell post-event bonds, assuming they could be sold at all. TWIA will be meeting with Commissioner Rathgeber this Friday (June 21, 2013) to try to persuade her to reverse former Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman’s decision.

2. TWIA has acquired $1 billion in reinsurance with an attachment point of $1.7 billion.  It has the right until July 15 to increase its reinsurance to $1.25 billion but increase its attachment point of $2.2 billion.

3. As feared, TWIA’s financial condition is already having an effect. Premium finance companies are refusing to lend more than $16,000 to pay TWIA premiums. Lenders don’t want to try to bring claims for unearned premiums against an insolvent insurer.

4. TWIA actually has only $340 million in cash after having paid much of the recent $135 million Ike settlement.  It believes it will have $400 million in cash by August and through the end of the year.

5. TWIA will ask the Texas Department of Insurance to permit it to change accounting practices so that it can count the Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund on its books as its assets.  Doing so would move TWIA from being seen as having a negative surplus to perhaps having a positive surplus.

6. TWIA will not cancel over 2,000 policies that it has knowingly issued in violation of provisions of the Texas Insurance Code governing compliance with building codes.  Instead, starting in January, after this year’s hurricane season it will decline to renew such policies as they come up for renewal.  This refusal to enforce the law was the subject of sharp criticism yesterday from State Senator Larry Taylor and may give rise to claims by those assessed to pay for post-event bonds that TWIA’s exposure was unlawfully increased.

7. TWIA did not vote to consent to imposition of a receivership.

8. TWIA will not try to assess insurers based on a law that was repealed in 2009. It acknowledges that that there are “uncertainties” as to whether it has authority to do so and that actually collecting such assessments would be difficult.

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.

Continue reading

Troubling news: TWIA loses $500 million in anticipated funding

The short term finances of the already shaky largest property insurer on the Texas coast took an unanticipated and significant turn for the worse Monday.  Outgoing Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman rejected Monday plans of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association to borrow $500 million via a “Bond Anticipation Note” to help pay claims this hurricane season.  The Commissioner did not reject a plan to issue post-event bonds in the event of a significant storm this season.  As a practical matter, however, it may be difficult to persuade the market to loan money to TWIA after a storm due to peculiarities in the existing law that were not ironed out during the regular session of the Texas legislature.

The refusal to permit TWIA to borrow at this time, coupled with the announced $135 million settlement earlier this week of most of the remaining lawsuits against TWIA arising out of Hurricane Ike, probably cuts in half the amount of cash TWIA would have immediately available to pay claims in the event of a storm this summer without having to rely on untested, legally questionable and potentially slow efforts at “post-event” borrowings.  The action leaves both the cash position and the long run finances of the troubled insurer in question.

My best guess is that without the Bond Anticipation Note (BAN), and including its Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund (CRTF), TWIA probably has between $400 to $700 million in cash with which to pay claims.  That’s not much when your direct exposure is over $75 billion, your total exposure is over $80 billion and a Category 2 or 3 hit at a bad spot on the Texas coast could easily cause losses of over $2 billion. The Bond Anticipation Note would have doubled the amount of cash available to pay claims.

As it stands, and as set forth below, I now believe it is not unduly pessimistic to set the odds of a TWIA insolvency this summer at 10%. If we consider two summers until the next regular legislative session, this risk roughly doubles. Given the grave effects of a TWIA insolvency on the entire Texas economy, this is way, way too high a risk.

Cash position

To understand this, take a look a TWIA’s 2012 Annual Statement. TWIA ended 2013 with about $430 million in cash (Assets, line 5; column 1) and total admitted assets (including the cash) of about the same amount, $430 million. (Assets, line 28, column 3) It has agreed to pay about $135 million in cash to settle the bulk of the Ike lawsuits. How much that will reduce the $323 million in loss reserves (Liabilities, Surplus and Other Funds, line 1, column 1) is unclear.  Because lawsuits remain, it is unlikely to reduce those reserves down to zero.  It will, however, likely reduce TWIA’s cash position by the full $135 million in relatively short order, depending on the details of the settlement. That would leave TWIA with just $295 million in cash.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated.  I don’t have access to TWIA’s financial statements for the first quarter of 2013 or thereafter. TWIA has likely earned some cash since January 1, 2013. It has been earning and collecting premiums, although it has had to pay off about $50 million on a thunderstorm in Hitchcock.  So, let’s be generous and credit TWIA with about $120 million more in new cash. This brings a guesstimate of its cash levels back up to around $415 million.

The problem is that not all of this cash is available to pay policyholder claims.  Some of it will be used to pay for operations, for commissions, and for other matters, including the Ike claims not resolved earlier this week.  So, I would be surprised if someone were to audit TWIA today and found it had more than $400 million in cash available to pay claims before resort to the CRTF. I would not be surprised if the number actually came out in the $300 million range.  And both of these figures will be reduced by $100 million or so less if TWIA succeeds in its plan to purchase reinsurance.

So, without the hoped-for borrowings, TWIA might have had $300 million to pay claims out of operating funds and another $180 million out of its CRTF.  TWIA might have had a total of $500 million.  (If the settlement came out of the CRTF rather than operations, the total would stay the same).  If the BAN had been approved, at least in the short run before TWIA had to pay the loan back, TWIA might have had $1 billion.  Both sums are, of course, grossly inadequate to deal with the $80 plus billion in TWIA exposure. Nonetheless, $1 billion in cash would have left TWIA in a better short run position.

Long run finances

Perhaps the greater impact, however, of the BAN ban is on the ability of TWIA to sell post-event bonds following a storm.  We’ve been through this matter before on this blog, but it is worth repeating because it is so very important.  The short version is, however, that there is a significant risk that very little in post-event bonds will actually be able to be sold.  And, thus, TWIA may very well have less than $1 billion with which to pay claims even after borrowing.  I would not be surprised if it ended up with as little $700 million.  The probability of such losses occurring this summer would be about 7-9% if this were a normal hurricane season.  If, as climate experts agree, however, this proves to be a bad hurricane season the probability of TWIA going broke and unable to pay claims fully could rise to 10-14%.

Here’s the longer version.  I, by the way, am not alone in my alarm on this matter. TWIA itself raised the issue in its submission to the Texas legislature.  the Texas Public Finance Authority (TPFA) had trouble last year trying to help TWIA borrow. And several of the pieces of proposed legislation this session would have fixed this particular problem.  But all of these bills failed during the regular session. Governor Perry has thus far resisted calls that he add windstorm insurance reform to the agenda for a special legislative session.

if there is a storm that pierces the CRTF, TWIA will need to rely on post-event Class 1 bonds.  But, unless something has changed, per the Texas Public Finance Authority they won’t sell, at least not up to $1 billion authorized.  But if the Class 1’s don’t fully sell, then TWIA/TPFA is prohibited from selling the regular Class 2 bonds. (Section 2210.073). Instead, we go to the Class 2 Alternatives under section 2210.6136.  But if less than $500 million of Class 1 bonds have sold — which is likely to be the case —  the first $500 million of the  Class 2 bonds  are paid in the same problematic way as the Class 1 bonds (surcharges on TWIA policyholders).  (Section 2210.6136(b)(1)). And there is a serious question as to whether anyone will loan TWIA money on those terms. Why? Because as soon as substantial policy surcharges are issued on TWIA policies, some TWIA policyholders will either find other insurance, reduce the sizes of their policy, or simply choose to go bare.  This is particularly likely if a storm has impoverished many TWIA policyholders. And if enough TWIA policyholders reduce their premiums, the percent surcharge will need to go up to compensate in order to pay off the bonds.  But if the surcharge rate goes up, more TWIA policyholders will drop out.  And, we get into a death spiral.

But here’s the catch.  Under section 2210.6136(c), if TWIA/TPFA can’t sell every dollar of the $1 billion in Class 2 Alternatives, then TWIA/TPFA can not issue the class 3 bonds of $500 million.  The statute is crystal clear on this point.  And this means that TWIA has no Class 1 bonds, no Class 2 bonds, little or no Class 2 Alternative bonds and no Class 3 bonds.  The system has completely collapsed in a cascade of failures.  TWIA basically has no money beyond cash on hand, and the CRTF. That means policyholders will not be paid in full.  If the storm is bad enough, they won’t be paid even half of their legitimate claims.

Reinsurance — assuming that TWIA can get it — will not help a lot. The reinsurance will not kick in until losses exceed the “reinsurance attachment point.”  But the reinsurance attachment point is likely to be set on the false assumption that the post-event securities will succeed.  So, for losses less than the reinsurance attachment point, the reinsurance won’t pay at all.  TWIA will be just as bankrupt as if it did not have reinsurance at all.  Actually, it will be more bankrupt because  it will have paid $100 million in premiums.  And even if the storm is so bad that the reinsurance kicks in, there is still a gap between the top of the CRTF plus any post-event bonds and the reinsurance attachment point.  So, TWIA won’t have enough money to pay claims fully.

Why would Commissioner Kitzman do such a thing?

I’m not privy to her reasoning or all the facts, but there are concerns we have outlined before about pre-event borrowing such as a Bond Anticipation Note.  The problem with loans is that you have to pay them back — and at interest.  Thus, in the long run, particularly if interest rates rise or if TWIA is deemed high risk and thus charged high rates even now, borrowing perpetuates your insufficient capitalization.  Whatever the benefits in the short run — and there may have been many here that incoming Commissioner Julia Rathgeber will want to examine — it is not the ideal long run solution for insurance risk. It may well be that Commissioner Kitzman refused as her final act to be complicit in the bandaiding of TWIA in the hopes that a sufficiently obvious problem would spur the Governor to call a special session and the legislature to develop a sustainable fix.  If so, let us hope that gamble proves correct.

 

TWIA validates risk of insolvency and threat of small weather events

A letter from TWIA in response to a public information request validates the methodology used on this blog to assess alternative legislative proposals to fund catastrophic risk in Texas. This response to a public information request also shows that, given TWIA’s thin capitalization and growing exposure, even small weather events can have a serious effect. A redacted copy of that response is provided in the link below. The redaction is to protect the identity of the requestor (not me) who fears retaliation for having submitted it.

[Copy of letter temporarily deleted until redaction can be improved]

May 8, 2013 letter from TWIA

May 8, 2013 letter from TWIA

Insolvency Risk

Here is TWIA’s risk of insolvency based on what it apparently believes it can achieve in pre-event funding, post-event bonding and reinsurance.  For reasons I have set forth elsewhere, I believe these estimates of how much funding TWIA can receive are financially and legally unrealistic.

Source of FundingAmountCumulative AmountProbability Exceedance
Source of FundingAmountCumulative AmountProbability Exceedance
Premiums and CRTF$200 million$200 million17.4%
Class 1 Bonds$500 million$700 million7.7%
Class 2 Bonds$1 billion$1.7 billion3.2%
Class 3 Bonds$500 million$2.2 billion2.5%
Reinsurance$1.15 billion$3.35 billion1.5%

Regular readers of this blog — actually an impressively growing number — will note two things.  First, these estimates are close to estimates I have made of the risk to TWIA.  I have not been crying “wolf” or (needlessly) imitating Chicken Little on this topic for these many months. There is a very serious problem on the coast of Texas and, derivatively, a very serious problem for the rest of Texas. Also, since my estimates of the burden on various constituencies posed by various legislative proposals are based on these same models (see here, here and here for examples), the TWIA data tends to validate my estimates.  Bills such as SB 1700 indeed force non-TWIA policyholders to pay a stunningly large portion of the claims of TWIA policyholders.

Second, these estimates are one year values.  If one looks at the risk of insolvency over longer period of time, the risk increases significantly.  So, for example, if TWIA is not substantially fixed until the 84th legislative session and its catastrophe reserve trust fund does not grow, there is about a 32% probability that TWIA will have to go beyond its catastrophe reserve fund in order to pay claims.

Reinsurance

TWIA confirms in its response that it is trying to obtain $1.15 billion in reinsurance. Its hope is to spend $106 million and get an attachment point atop Class 3 bonds of $2.2 billion. It confirms that it may be able to get between $900 million and $1.1 billion of insurance coverage for this money.

There is, however, a troubling paragraph in the public information request response. The one contingency mentioned in the response is that TWIA might not be possible to sell the Bond Anticipation Notes (BAN) and thus might need an attachment point on the reinsurance of $1.7 billion. Fair enough. But the problem is actually considerably more serious. If the BAN does not sell — indeed if any of the authorized $1 billion in Class 1 Securities can not fully be issued — then TWIA can not issue $1 billion in regular Class 2 Securities.  It has to issue what I have called Class 2 Alternative Securities.  But the Class 2 Securities depend on the same dubious funding source as the Class 1 Securities, so the market might not buy those either.  And, if the Class 2 Alternative Securities don’t sell the Class 3 Securities can not be sold.

TWIA actually noticed at least part of this problem back in December when it made its recommendations to the Texas legislature.  Read pp. 30-32 of this TWIA document. Six months later, however, TWIA appears to be ignoring that major problem even though the law under which it operates remains unchanged.   If TWIA and/or its reinsurance broker is not paying attention to this point, it could be about to make dubious use of $106 million in TWIA policyholder money.  Because if TWIA buys reinsurance with an attachment point of $1.7 billion or $2.2 billion and it has only, say, $900 million in actual cash available to pay claims, TWIA will have no money to pay losses between $900 million and the attachment point. There’s a gap. It’s like buying catastrophic health insurance with a big deductible when you don’t even have enough money to pay for modest claims. The reinsurance will not kick in and it will not “drop down.” And so, TWIA will be able to pay only a small fraction (perhaps as little as 50%) of its losses with unusable reinsurance just sitting there.

For what it’s worth,  I’ve talked about all this before (here and here, for example, and here too).  And its a bug that many of the proposals now floating about the legislature fix.  But who knows if any of these proposals will actually become law.

The CRTF

TWIA confirms that at the end of March it stood at $180 million. At least it has not gone down more since the beginning of the year.

Recent Hailstorms

A friend has stated that “TWIA doesn’t even have enough to pay for a thunderstorm.” I had always taken this to be an exaggeration.  But the Public Information Request confirms that a thunderstorm in Santa Fe and Hitchcock on April 2, 2013 — a localized non-catastrophic weather event —  generated about $50 million in losses (what would be 28% of its CRTF). Fortunately, this storm did not get beyond the budgeted amount for 2013 non-catastrophe losses and did not require a dip into the CRTF. But think about it.  This moderate weather event cost TWIA more than 10% of its premiums.  What if there’s another severe thunderstorm or two this year?  What does this say about premiums?  What does it say about the needed capitalization of a bulked up TWIA?

The problem is one of exposure.  TWIA now insures so much property and the coast — thanks partly to TWIA subsidized insurance rates — has become sufficiently developed  that even moderate or localized weather events can potentially wipe out TWIA’s Ike-depleted catastrophe reserve trust fund and force TWIA onto the uncharted waters of post-event financing.

Thanks

Maybe TWIA isn’t this helpful all the time to everybody, but in my experience TWIA has made an effort to provide timely and reasonable responses to reasonable public information requests.  So, a thanks to Jennifer Armstrong and the staff there on this point.

Caveats

It might be worth repeating that the views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Houston.

Also, the views expressed in this posts do not necessarily reflect those of the recipient of the public information request at issue.

Breaking News: Major TWIA Bill Approved by Senate Committee

According to a reliable source, a highly amended S.B. 1700 that resembles somewhat the committee substitute HB 3622 has been voted favorably out of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee.

Here’s a link to the bill. Senate Bill 1700 approved by Business and Commerce

I’ll try to provide a detailed analysis in the next 24 hours.  The short version, however, is this bill looks like a masterpiece of special interest legislation that current TWIA policyholders on the coast should love. It gets rid of the worst problems in post-event bonds that have been around since 2011. Everyone off and on the coast should be glad that this problem is eliminated. The SB 1700 voted out of committee favorably reduces the probability of a storm that would gravely injure TWIA policyholders and, derivatively, the rest of Texas. It requires little if any sacrifice from TWIA policyholders in terms of mitigation and asks rich and poor insureds throughout Texas to subsidize property along the coast even more so than before. That subsidization continues even if the owners of coastal property are wealthy and don’t need or deserve the subsidy. But it continues extracting this money in a way that is very hard for the average insured to understand or see.  If you live off the coast, your 3% higher insurance bill won’t have a picture showing you the lovely beach home or modest coastal property you are now subsidizing more than before with your hard earned money, but you’ll be doing it nonetheless.

Also, the bill (section 2210.212) says that TWIA “must” reduce its potential exposure quite substantially both over the next few years and over the next decade.  In theory this means that TWIA will have to drop policyholders and private insurers will have to pick them up. It looks, however, as if all that “must” means is that Texas insurers, if they don’t write insurance on the coast as desired by TWIA, will have to collectively fork over $200 million.  I have serious doubts this provision means much more than that Texas insurers can look forward to passing on a $200 million bill to their non-coastal policyholders every several years — how, exactly, is Allstate supposed to compete with subsidized TWIA? —  but perhaps if Allstate (just to pick on one large insurer arbitrarily) were to sell in the least vulnerable parts of the coast, it might be able to do so at only a modest loss and avoid being hit by the stick that this bill gives TWIA.  Anyway, more on this and other interesting bill features soon.

Oh, and I almost forgot.  If this bill passes it won’t be TWIA anymore.  It will be TRIP, the Texas Residual Insurance Plan.

TWIA Board tries to borrow $500 million and get $1.15 billion in reinsurance

The TWIA board met Friday.  I could not listen in on the meeting so my information is very limited.

Pre-Event Bonds

It appears that TWIA is going to seek $500 million in pre-event bonds for the 2013 hurricane season in order to augment its skimpy $180 million catastrophe reserve fund.  Although the total of $680 million is inadequate to address the $70 billion plus in total insured value, it is still an improvement over the $180 million that might be the only certain funding.  My AIR/RMS derived hurricane models  (CompoundPoissonDistribution[0.54, WeibullDistribution[0.42, 177000000]]) suggest this reduces the probability that TWIA will be unable to pay claims in full for hurricanes this year down from 14% to about 9%.  Yes, TWIA may be paying a high interest rate to engage in this sort of borrowing, and from what I understand the borrowing has yet to be consummated, but this is a significant step.

Reinsurance efforts

I also understand from a Rick Spruill Twitter post that TWIA is going to seek $1.15 billion in reinsurance.  What I can’t tell you right now is

  • at what level will the reinsurance attach, i.e. atop the Class 3 as I have recommended or inserted between Class 2 and Class 3 as a Guy Carpenter presentation suggested might occur
  • will the reinsurance “drop down” in the event any of the post-event bonds underlying it can not be sold; if not this reinsurance may well be worthless
  • what premium will TWIA pay for this reinsurance; TWIA in the past has paid very high rates for reinsurance that probably had higher attachment points
  • will the market in fact sell TWIA this much reinsurance; reinsurance capacity is not unlimited
  • is the reinsurance per occurrence or per year; it matters a lot if we have multiple storms
  • if per occurrence, what right of reinstatement will TWIA have and at what price

These are all very important questions in assessing the extent to which TWIA policyholders are at risk for this summer while the Texas legislature considers alternative short and long run fixes.

One additional note

Although the decrease from 14% risk of failure to a 9% risk of failure is significant, one must recognize that over a long period of time, 9% risks materialize.  There is, for example, an 85% chance that a 9% risk will materialize at some point during a 20 year period.  So, getting funds up to $680 million is a positive development, it is not by any means a long run solution.

TWIA Board to Consider 2013 Reinsurance, Bonds

With just 30 days to go before the start of hurricane season, the Board of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) will meet tomorrow, Friday, May 3, 2013, in Austin to discuss issues critical to its survival.  Among the items on the agenda are purchases of reinsurance and attempts to sell both pre-event and post-event bonds.  Both of these items are likely to prove extremely difficult for TWIA to manage.  Not on the public agenda is any further consideration of having TWIA placed into receivership.

Reinsurance

Let’s look at the reinsurance issue first. TWIA will be receiving a presentation from its long time insurance broker, Guy Carpenter. You can get a copy of that presentation here. It’s a fascinating document. It rests on an awfully cheerful view of TWIA’s ability to sell post-event bonds.  That’s not a view shared by the Texas Insurance Commissioner or, for what it is worth, by me. It shows TWIA is considering a reinsurance purchase option that would help insurers but would hurt policyholders. And it exposes yet again the extent to which the never-ending need to purchase reinsurance created by the undercapitalization of TWIA, forces TWIA to pay extremely high rates for that protection. If one wanted Exhibit A for why TWIA should be substantially depopulated rather than propped up so it can expand, the material for this board meeting would not be a bad place to start.

WHY IS GUY CARPENTER ASSUMING REINSURANCE CAN ATTACH AT $2.3 BILLION?

The Guy Carpenter presentation proceeds on the dubious assumption that TWIA can sell post-event bonds and thus can attach as high as $2.3 billion in the funding stack.   Look at the following picture found on Slide 8. (You may need to click on it, which will cause it to zoom in).

Proposed reinsurance arrangement for 2013

Proposed reinsurance arrangement for 2013

 

Notice that it presupposes that TWIA will be able to sell $2 billion worth of Class 1, Class 2  bonds and thus explores attachment at the top of the Class 2 stack.  But this is a very strange assumption to make.  First, as the Texas Public Finance Authority and the Texas Insurance Commissioner have stated, and as seems clearly correct, TWIA will not be able to sell the full $1 billion of Class 1 bonds.  And has been discussed on this blog before, the Class 2 bonds can’t sell if the Class 1 bonds don’t sell out and the Class 2 Alternative bonds have difficulties as well. So, the whole discussion of reinsurance attaching no lower than about $2.3 billion rests on what sure looks like unwarranted optimism.

Now, to be sure, TWIA’s got a document in its packet for the meeting Friday that suggests it still thinks it can sell $500 in pre-event securities, $1 billion in Class 2 public securities and $500 million in Class 3 securities.  This document appears, however, to ignore section 2210.6136 of the Texas Insurance Code, which says that Class 2 Bonds can’t be issued unless the full $1 billion of Class 1 bonds sell out.  If the Class 1 bonds don’t fully sell, then one has to resort to the Class 2 Alternative bonds.  But as I’ve pointed out before, the Class 2 Alternative bonds may be almost as dubious as the Class 1 bonds. And the Class 3 bonds legally depend on all the Class 2 or Class 2 Alternative bonds selling out.  So, again it looks to me as if TWIA is still looking at this summer with very rosy glasses or has some interpretation of the Texas Insurance Code I don’t understand.

Note 1: There is an alternative presentation on slide 13 in which Guy Carpenter explores the possibility of the reinsurance attaching at $1.7 billion, but even this is an awfully optimistic perspective on TWIA’s ability to sell post-event bonds.

Note 2: In fairness to Guy Carpenter, there is a footnote attached to the graph stating “Actual amounts of bond tranches are subject to marketability.” Yes. But unless there’s been some miraculous turn around in TWIA’s bonding ability, this seems like the main point, rather than a footnote.

Why is Guy Carpenter not having the reinsurance attach at the top of the Class 3 bonds?

If you’ve ready my blog entry on The Curious Matter of Reinsurance Attachment, you’ll know that the TWIA board has to make a crucial tradeoff in determining where any reinsurance should attach.  Inserting the reinsurance between the Class 2 and Class 3 bonds protects insurers from assessments but buys, dollar for dollar, less protection for TWIA policyholders. Inserting the reinsurance on top of the Class 3 bonds gives policyholders more protection but increases the likelihood that insurers will have to pay.

Most of the bills pending in the legislature would prohibit TWIA from doing exactly what the Guy Carpenter presentation appears to suggest: protecting insurers from having to pay back Class 3 bonds rather than maximizing policyholder protection. Given the incredibly precarious situation facing TWIA policyholders this summer — sorry insurers — but the reinsurance should attach at the highest level possible, buying the most protection for policyholders with a provision for drop down in the event the post-event bonds can’t be sold.

The pricing of reinsurance continues to be incredibly high

The Guy Carpenter proposal suggests that TWIA is again going to have to pay through the nose for reinsurance partly as a result of it never having an adequate internal catastrophe reserve trust fund.  As I’ve spoken about on many occasions, this reinsurance trap — almost like borrowing from payday lenders to address financial vulnerability — basically insures that TWIA never escapes its poverty.

How can I say this?  Look at the models AIR and RMS provide both Guy Carpenter and TWIA.  Here’s slide 6 of the presentation.

AIR and RMS risk estimates

AIR and RMS risk estimates

If one assumes that the distribution of annual losses is a Compound Poisson distribution, with the Poisson parameter being 0.54 (as found in this scholarly article) and one assumes that the underlying distribution is a Weibull with parameters 0.42 and 177,000,000, you can generate data that matches up extremely well with that found by AIR and RMS.  If you then run, say, 10,000 years of simulations using that distribution, you find that the mean losses to an insurer who writes a maximum of  $850 million worth of coverage over a $2.3 billion retention is only about $20 million.  That is 4-5 times less than what the reinsurers are apparently proposing to charge.  And, thus, the cost of having to reinsure rather than internally finance is something like $65-$75 million per year, or about 1/6 of all TWIA’s premiums. You dont, by the way, get qualitatively different results using the three parameter Weibull distribution that I’ve used on this blog before to replicate the AIR/RMS models.

There’s a lot more that is odd about the reinsurance pricing. If we think of the price as being composed partly of expected losses and partly of having to withdraw the maximum exposure from illiquid high-earning investments and place it in low return, highly liquid investments — this is the Wharton School model — the pricing only makes sense if reinsurers lose about 7.8% on their capital by having to make it particularly liquid. ((-expectedLosses + premiums)/maxExposure). Given the market right now, that’s a pretty high number.

There are a couple of explanations between the actual pricing for reinsurance and the pricing that the models would suggest.  One, which is rather scary, is that the reinsurance market is not behaving as competitively as one would like.  The other, scary for different reasons, is that the reinsurance market doesn’t trust the AIR/RMS model and thinks the risk of a major hurricane is considerably greater.  If that’s true, however, then even the dire warnings that I  and others have been sounding about TWIA are understated.

Bonds

The Bond Anticipation Note

The other main item on the agenda appears to be the issuance of bonds.  There is a a proposal from First Southwest that TWIA sell by June 27, 2013, a “Bond Anticipation Note” for $500 million that would basically be an advance on a hoped-for similar Class 1 post-event bond. First Southwest apparently believes these unrated bonds could be sold at between 4 and 6%. My own 2 cents is that if TWIA can get this loan, it should grab it.  Increasing the amount it has to pay claims from its CRTF funds of $180 million to something like $680 million will help.  And if all it has to pay is some interest, that’s a good deal. But there’s a lot to do before this money will be available to TWIA and it looks as if it is going to have go through at least the first month of the 2013 hurricane season without it.

Post-Event Bonds

There’s also apparently a resolution on the table authorizing TWIA to asks the Texas Public Finance Authority to issue post-event bonds. I’ll confess I don’t understand this one.  There haven’t been any tropical cyclones yet in Texas for 2013.  Maybe TWIA is getting this resolution done to see what can actually done for 2013?  Maybe it is an attempt to see if things are as bad as some people have been saying?

Conclusion

The TWIA board is in a very tough spot.  With fewer than 30 days to go in the legislative session and 30 days until the start of hurricane season, it doesn’t really know what its resources are to pay claims. It’s being (understandably) threatened with receivership by the Texas Insurance Commissioner. And its existing reinsurance expires on May 31, 2013, before the start of hurricane season.  If and until TWIA gets some legislative relief or is put partly out of its misery by a Texas shift to an assigned risk plan or other mechanism that deconcentrates risk, it doesn’t have many good options. My hope is that the board will have the courage to confront its moral and legal obligation to warn policyholders in the clearest possible terms of the risks that, unless powerful legislative relief swiftly occurs, their claims will not be paid fully should a significant hurricane hit this summer.

H.B. 3622: the hearing yesterday. And is it getting worse?

Here’s a link to the House Insurance Committee hearing of April 30, 2013. My extensive fan network can skip to minute 10 and watch until minute 26 as I take on the Bonnen Brothers and discuss H.B. 3622 with the rest of the committee. Actually, it’s worth watching the whole thing, particularly the dance around the issue of whether H.B. 3622 mandates “actuarially sound rates.”  Answer: it does not.

Dennis Bonnen

Dennis Bonnen

Greg Bonnen

Greg Bonnen

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few quick observations:

  • Unconfirmed, but there is apparently a major change in H.B. 3622 that makes the bill worse than I thought.  In fact, if what I am hearing is true, I might now answer the question posed to me by Representative Greg Bonnen yesterday somewhat differently about which was better, his bill, which I did not like, or the status quo, which I also do not like.  If it is true, as I heard after the meeting, and as Beamon Floyd, a lobbyist for major Texas insurers suggested during his testimony, that a modified version of the bill relieves TWIA policyholders from the obligation of actually paying for the reinsurance that protects them but foists that $100 millionish burden onto insurers statewide, that makes H.B. 3622 even more problematic. If that’s true — and I hope to find out later today — my better answer might then be: “I can’t say: they are both awful in different ways. The status quo is awful because it does not create a high enough stack to protect TWIA policyholders from insolvency. HB 3622 is awful because it makes non-coastal residents pay even more of the burden of insuring on the coast and thereby sends even worse signals about development patterns and hurts the poor off the coast even more.”
  • It is apparently very common practice in the Texas legislature for there to be proposed changes to a bill — a “Committee Substitute” that are not posted to the otherwise wonderful Texas legislative website.  As a result, “outsiders” such as me find themselves testifying about provisions that have either been replaced or supplemented.  Apparently, one can usually get the committee substitute by asking the bill proponent, but it might enhance democracy — and make testimony more relevant — if these substitutes were available electronically or in some regularized procedure.
  • I think I now understand Representative Craig Eiland’s ideas on trying to assess insurers for Hurricane Ike.  He doesn’t want to assess under the old law.  What he seems to suggest is a new law that would assess insurers for anything up to $600 million “for Ike” and to justify that assessment on grounds that the insurers “escaped” that responsibility under the old law when TWIA messed up and failed to assess adequately.  It’s an interesting idea and I too am troubled by the failure to assess under the old law. It is partly responsible for the current deficiency in the Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund. But it is not an idea without legal risks. Although the ex post facto clause of the United States Constitution applies only to retroactive imposition of criminal liabilityHarisiades v. Shaughnessy, 342 U.S. 580, 594 (1952), that rule has some qualifications (Burgess v. Salmon, 97 U.S. (7 Otto) 381, 384 (1878)). Moreover, although what Representative Eiland is proposing isn’t quite a classical taking, it is a little disturbing.  The idea of taking money, even if for the public good, not as a condition of continuing to have an insurance business in Texas but as punishment for having previously done business in Texas and legally escaping what some wanted you to pay, may come close to constitutional prohibitions.  Make that assessment heavy enough and its relation to prior conduct or past legislative advocacy for the repeal of the old assessment law clear enough, and it might inspire the insurance industry to go out and find a good lawyer.
  • The Bonnen Brothers are both clearly intelligent people.  The absence of bombast in their tone is refreshing.

There will be more later today or tomorrow on the whole TWIA situation. Stay tuned as we head into the homestretch.