New York — Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services has just finished with a conference in San Francisco on the upheaval in the health insurance and health care services markets.
This week, S&P attracted insurance company executives here to New York for a separate conference on the state of the life insurance, annuity and property-casualty insurance sectors.
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During the breaks at the New York conference, and on the podium, attendees and speakers struggled to find something definite and fresh to say about the pretty good, but that great, state of the life, annuity and p-c markets.
Bernard de Longevialle, lead analytical manager for financial services ratings at S&P, said, “The insurance industry starts from a position of strength.”
Paul Sheard, S&P’s global chief economist, declared that the U.S. economy has recovered. He scoffed at people who say the U.S. economy is doing poorly. “That’s kind of nonsense,” Sheard said.
But S&P makes money by helping clients analyze risk, not by encouraging clients to relax and spend more time bowling, and speakers focused on the possibility that some risk, or another that seems to be under control today, could eventually smack insurers on the head.
Current views of future risk have a direct effect on the cost and features of life and annuity products, by changing insurers’ appetite for various types of risk exposure.
For a rundown of some the top contenders for Next Big Peril of the Year, keep reading.
5. Low interest rates
When S&P conference leaders conducted an automated poll of attendees, they ranked low rates as their top concern.
Carmi Margalit, an S&P analyst, noted that insurers are hoping the Fed pursues a middle way toward increasing rates.
“Everybody’s looking forward to rising rates, but not rising too fast,” Margalit said, referring to the 1990s, when a rapid jump in rates led holders of insurance and annuity products to flee for higher-paying alternatives.
Sheard said the Federal Reserve Board will probably raise rates using a careful, adjust-and-check approach, not by using the kind of semi-automatic approach the Fed tried in 2004.