Insurers looking to Government for stop-gap measures to address earthquake vulnerability and depletion of EQC reserves

Insurers looking to Government for stop-gap measures to address earthquake vulnerability and depletion of EQC reserves

By Amanda Morrall

The over-run costs of the Christchurch earthquakes, which have drained EQC reserves, have insurers calling on the Government to introduce "short-term stabilisation measures" to buffer the impact of another potential natural disaster.

New Zealand insurers say they have been in discussions with government to address the worrying possibility and implications of another big quake, given that the emergency fund set up for such an event has effectively been emptied.

Yesterday Finance Minister Bill English announced that the costs related to pay-outs for earthquake damaged homes had swelled from an original prediction of NZ$4 billion to NZ$7.1 billion depleting Government reserves. The revelation has Earthquake Minister Gerry Brownlee headed to Europe next week in search of support from reinsurers.

English said the Government would step in if EQC could not meet its obligations in the event of another quake.

"The important thing is that New Zealanders who have cover from EQC can be reassured that if there is a natural disaster they are covered and if EQC don't have the money Government will produce it."

'Tenuous situation'

AA Insurance head of corporate affairs Suzanne Wolton said the tenuous situation left New Zealanders highly exposed.

"There is a short-term stabilisation need that we need to address," said Wolton.

Wolton said in the absence of insurance to cover EQC's liabilities, the financial burden would fall to the Government and ultimately over-stretched taxpayers.

She suggested the Government might have to adopt some international natural disaster models to reduce the country's risk exposure or else look seriously at some of the proposals put forward by minor parties, such as the Green Party, to restock the emergency fund.

"All those things have massive advantages and massive disadvantages and nothing is perfect for a country like New Zealand which has a tiny population and quite a bit of seismic activity. So whichever way we solve this problem, is going to cause some short term pain."

While AA insurance has ruled out any imminent increases to premiums having already introduced average premium hikes of 50% across its building product line, the fate of other insurers is less clear.

AMI, with the largest exposure to the residential insurance market in Christchurch, has a government guarantee of NZ$500 million but could potentially breach that border given claims costs on its book.

What happens if there's another earthquake?

Wolton said most companies knew by now what their liabilities were as a result of the combined earthquakes and had adequate reinsurance in place to cover that. But the dilemma now reported by the Government with respect to EQC's blow-out raised some concerns about where that left New Zealanders.

"It's a unfortunate tragedy that it has happened twice in Canterbury but the next one could happen in Wellington or Auckland or Gisborne or somewhere else so the whole country needs to think about how well it is prepared for another earthquake not only in terms of a disaster kit but it terms of it financial capability to deal with it."

"As soon as there is another event in New Zealand that requires the reinstatement of reinsurance cover either for ourselves or the industry at large then that's going to have upward pressures on premiums but if everything stays stable, we ought to be fine.''

Wolton suggested EQC's role in the finance of earthquake-related damage, while one of the "best" systems in the world, needed to be reassessed.

"I don't think we should be having a knee jerk reaction and saying the EQC has to go. It is a very well set up scheme and if you think about it, it did was it was supposed to. But the fact remains, there is short-term stabilisation need that we have to address.''

"The other thing we need to point out is that it is not Canterbury's problem, it is New Zealand's problem."

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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What happens if there's another earthquake?   crumz - theyve had 4 allready today - the whole thing is really getting smelly.   'Orrible thing to say maybe, but time to abandon ship down there my hearties ?    no rebuilding is gonna happen when the ground is all over the place like booze on the pavement...

Is this Chch situation NZs  #1 problem and is it time to seek international assistance

delay the election too - same logic as census

ChrisJ and Elley -    any comment on todays events so far ?

We were driving in central Christchurch and didn't notice any of them so not so bad.

Best guide is remembering the scale is logrthmic so you can see they were much less energy than the others.  I like to have these medium size ones often as it seems normal now and I get nervous when there has been a long silence....

If you're commenting on my "non-prediction" that there was a slightly increased of a slightly larger than normal quake in the next 2 or 3 days from last night onwards (given the correlation that already existed between moon/tides and the timing of larger events), then on the face of it the largest quake in 6 weeks at 1.30pm today might appear to vindicate the theory but I'm still hedging my bets and not claiming any prizes for now.

Personally my thoughts are that the combination of the slightly stonger gravitational effects of the moon coupled with the additional weight of water (through tidal variations) are enough to kick into action and bring forward the slightly larger seismic events that may have otherwise happened sometime in the (not too distant) future.  Although without doing some modelling I wouldn't want to be definitive on that.  It's a surprise no published research has been undertaken on this.

Now if today was it for the next month, I'll be happy, unfortunately I'm not sure that it was.  We'll see in the next few days.

Large quake 3.30am

Now that was what I was talking about!

This is more than coincidence, it's definitely correlation!

If the RS can say this: 

"Q – How predictable was February 22 – and what was the influence of the moon and tides?

AThe specific timing, location, or magnitude of earthquakes cannot be predicted. The moon can sometimes influence small earth tremors*, but there is no credible evidence linking it to larger quakes.

Source: Royal Society

– Responses compiled by Adam Dudding"

and many other experts tell us the science is complex and incomplete - er, like all sciences - then maybe it's worthy of less ridicule and more rigour.

So, perhaps your'e onto something Chris.

* so what are the variables and considerations here I wonder, could they be, at least, depth of fault, crust structure and strength? Might a small earth tremor trigger an eq in a larger fault, maybe especially in a multi-fault zone? Maybe ChCh is the ideal place for the kind of studies implied.

Yawn, back to bed.

Hi guys, see you're up too.

Yeap another 4 today...there is still a strong chance we will get one more at 5 plus and in the South West which escaped the major Feb damage, but was hit in Setptember. Now if those houses (mine is one of them) are hit again and we have already been paid out and fixed the September damage, I doubt EQC will really be in a position to pay out quickly again and the government will ahev to dip into the pocket (again). it is a very real possibility and is at the back of everyones minds down here.....that another one is just around the corner. NZ is very exposed indeed, the buckle is undone lets hope Mother nature does'nt down trou us.