EQC has less than NZ$1 billion reinsurance in place if another event were to strike tomorrow, PM Key says

EQC has less than NZ$1 billion reinsurance in place if another event were to strike tomorrow, PM Key says

By Alex Tarrant

The Earthquake Commission currently has less than NZ$1 billion of reinsurance and is going through a process of renegotiating further reinsurance in case of another natural disaster, Prime Minister John Key said.

Asked at his weekly post-cabinet press conference how much reinsurance was in place if another event were to strike tomorrow, Key said New Zealand had "not a hell of a lot."

“Yes we have some. It’s much more limited than it was, but we’re in the process of renegotiating. The way it worked was NZ$2.5 billion per individual event, so we’ve had two events – NZ$5 billion. There’s some residual after that and we’re in the process of renegotiating further reinsurance," Key said.

It was more than a few hundred million dollars "and less than a billion as I understand it," Key said.

Asked how long he thought the process would take, Key replied, "You’d have to take that up with the Minister of Finance (Bill English). He’s the minister responsible and they’re negotiating. He has the warrant for EQC.”

“We want to reinstate the reinsurance risk, and my understanding is that they’re working on that process," Key said.

A spokesman for Finance Minister Bill English's office later told interest.co.nz that EQC chief executive Ian Simpson was currently overseas visiting reinsurers.

"This is the time of year EQC annually renegotiates its reinsurance - this is business as usual. It's too soon to give any indication of the impact of recent earthquakes in Christchurch and Japan on that process," the spokesman said.

Key unsure on impact on EQC premiums

Meanwhile, Key said he had not had any advice on whether the events in Japan would flow through to EQC policy premiums or make it harder to replenish the fund.

“You make a fair point that the reinsurers are taking a hammering at the moment. I don’t know what level of reinsurance risk that the Japanese have, but we can see that the earthquake and the resulting tsunami is likely to have a very substantial cost to Japan," Key said at the press conference.

"What impact that has on the reinsurers, I don’t know. But I think, just the earthquake in New Zealand would unquestionably mean that reinsurance will be more expensive for New Zealand, that is a statement of fact," he said.

Early reports suggest much of the insurance costs from the events in Japan will be covered by local companies to a greater extent than the Christchurch quakes.

Bloomberg reported Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, saying, “A larger share of losses are likely to be retained by domestic Japanese insurers and reinsurers than was the case with recent earthquakes in Chile and New Zealand.”

Following the February 22 quake in Christchurch, Key said he expected EQC policy premiums could rise by three times from about NZ$60 now to as high as NZ$180. The government wanted to replenish the fund to NZ$6 billion over nine years. If premiums were left at the current rate, it would take until 2025 before the fund was fully replenished.

“I think pretty much all New Zealanders recognise we need to club together here and help and rebuild that fund so we have a high level of comfort so that if some other natural disaster occurs around New Zealand, we’re in a position to be able to afford it,” Key said on February 28.

Later on February 28, EQC officials told interest.co.nz the fund should have NZ$3 billion remaining after it had paid for the two Christchurch earthquakes. EQC initially paid NZ$1.5 billion up front for each quake, and had reinsurance in place for NZ$2.5 billion for each of the two events.

A Sydney Morning Herald report two weeks ago said some global reinsurers may be reluctant to do business with Australia and New Zealand after meeting current obligations because the region had been so fraught with natural disasters over the past few years.

QBE Insurance chief executive Frank O'Halloran said some of the world's biggest reinsurers had taken a financial "hammering" from payouts linked to floods, hailstorms and now earthquakes.

(Updates with video, comment from Finance Minister's office, more Key comments, background.)

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The truth is that we are pretty much stuffed.

NZI today is now telling us (as a customer via its call centre staff) that they expect the EQC to pay a further $115k out on each of the severely damaged properties.  So we need to submit a new EQC claim and wait the months it took last time for EQC men who didn't know what they were talking about, to say that all the damage is preexisting.

So if you had about $100k damage first time round and now the house needs rebuilt, EQC is going to have to cough up with the full cost on a modest house.  The problem is because EQC and private assessors hadn't even inspected most properties that claimants will be stuck between EQC and private insurers passing the buck for the next few years.

We had this problem with a four flat property, where the insurer was claiming EQC needed to make four payments and EQC were arguing that it was a single claim, this is still unresolved of course.

If private insurers are successful in their interpretation EQC's liabilities could be very high indeed. $7,8 or 9b cost to EQC anyone?

Chris_J: "a four flat property" were they insured as seperate units/flats or as a single property?

I guess the question will be whether you had 4 seperate policies with 4 seperate EQ premiums.

It appears the insurance company was only paying 1 eqc premium, so it's their fault the tussle with eqc has occurred.  It all depends on high they define a flat which in older conversions becomes complicated.

A neighbour who rents a house as short term accomodation was told by eqc they weren't covered even though their insurer paid eqc premiums, so who knows what is going on.

Your accounts of what the situation is with insurers/EQC makes me wonder if I should continue paying AMI $120 a month for our house + contents insurance. Seems like it's a waste of money.

Your accounts of what the situation is with insurers/EQC makes me wonder if I should continue paying AMI $100 a month for our house + contents insurance. Seems like it's a waste of money.

Elley, better to have insurance than not (at least someone to get something from) and I guess you could rely on a Government bailout if a failure occured.  Of course it may pay to check who is actually underwriting it though.

@ Elley, A very intuitive question. From a dis-interested observer, reading between the same lines, I wouldn't ignore your intuition. With an 80% order of probability, the wisest move would be to move to a more substantial insurer. ASAP.

OK, thanks to both for your reply. The insurance business isn't something I know much about at all - we just pay for it as a matter of fact. Could you clarify what you mean by a more substantial insurer? (In other words I want names!).

you could look up the credit ratings if you trust them :-)

Fromreading  the thread one can imagine that the next "event" should be a big crack in the insurance industry. Not EQ proof any more.

Bet you Smith gets told to cancel his 'Moonman' party just in case !