Disasters take toll on Swiss Re as it posts first quarter losses

SWISS RE has posted a first-quarter loss due to big claims from natural disasters in Japan, New Zealand and Australia, saying 2011 was likely to be one of the highest ever natural catastrophe claims.

But the high disaster payouts, combined with low interest rates and other factors, meant prices for reinsuring property and casualty losses would likely firm sooner than expected, Swiss Re said. Reinsurance prices had been falling.

“We expect the market hardening, that we previously forecast for 2012-2013, to take place much sooner,” finance chief George Quinn said.

Swiss Re posted a net loss in the first-quarter of $665m (£405.8m), better than a $999m loss forecasted.

Swiss Re’s asset management unit saw a four per cent annualised return on investment, thanks to changes in asset allocation and portfolio gains.

The world’s second-biggest reinsurer was already facing a high 2011 disaster bill when the tsunami and earthquake struck Japan, saddling it with a further $1.2bn in claims.

Swiss Re already had charges of around $800m from the earthquake that struck New Zealand in February. Yet said it could handle them and still maintain significant excess capital.