Nov 26, 2019

Axios Markets

By Dion Rabouin
Dion Rabouin

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Situational awareness:

  • The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, one of big bank regulators, said it would cut banks’ supervision fees by 10%. (Reuters)
  • Shares of Alibaba closed up more than 6% in the company’s Hong Kong trading debut. (FT)

At 1,167 words, this will take you < 5 minutes to read...

1 big thing: Climate change rains insurance misery on homeowners

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Climate change is making home insurance unavailable or unaffordable in the riskiest areas for hurricanes, wildfires and flooding.

Why it matters: As insurance companies pay record amounts to homeowners who have suffered partial or total losses, they retreat from or raise premiums in places where claims are owed.

What's happening: Company payouts for natural catastrophes in 2017 and 2018 stood at $219 billion, the highest ever for a consecutive two-year period, according to Swiss Re, a company that underwrites risks for insurers, known as a reinsurer.

  • Insurers continue to write policies in areas prone to disaster, but tend to hike monthly premiums to offset the cost.
  • Every state saw annual premiums rise between 2007 and 2016 (the latest available data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners).
  • States in Tornado Alley saw the biggest jump: Oklahoma saw a $654 increase over a decade, while Kansas saw premiums rise $501 on average.

Yes, but: The rise masks that insurers are limiting coverage in areas deemed too risky.

  • The 2018 Camp Fire in northern California was the most destructive in terms of property damage in the state's history.
  • Insured losses topped $13 billion last year, according to the California Department of Insurance (CDOI).

Fearing bigger losses, insurers are pulling back from high-risk areas in California, leaving homeowners scrambling.

  • In the last three years, the counties at greatest risk for wildfires saw the number of new and renewed homeowners’ insurance policies fall by 8,700, per CDOI.

In Florida, homeowners have seen insurance costs rise in areas considered more at-risk by insurers.

  • For residents by the beach or coast: Mortgage companies require flood insurance, a separate policy that's usually provided by the federal National Flood Insurance Program for typically around $700.
  • Homeowners also need wind-related insurance, on top of regular homeowner's insurance, which are sometimes sold as a package.
  • "A huge portion of homeowner policy is wind- or hurricane-related in South Florida," Shahid Hamid, a professor at Florida International University, tells Axios.

The bottom line: Writing these policies could eventually put the insurers out of business as weather events become more unpredictable.

  • Last year, California-based insurer Merced Property & Casualty filed for bankruptcy after it was unable to pay out millions of dollars in claims to policyholders after California's Camp Fire, per CNN.
  • "Regulators are becoming concerned about insurer solvency in the face of increasingly severe weather-related losses," Deloitte writes in a report.
Bonus: The insurers' insurers
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Data: Guy Carpenter; Note: Index shows changes to global property catastrophe pricing from its starting point of 100 in 1990; Chart: Axios Visuals

Insurers are resisting rate hikes from their insurers, including the property reinsurers that act as a safety net if insurance companies’ losses reach a certain level.

Why it matters: Reinsurers, which in the past have bid up rates as insurers accumulated more losses than expected, are competing more with alternative capital.

What’s new: Endowments and pension funds are increasingly putting money into catastrophe bonds, a vehicle that raises money for insurance companies — giving insurers other options to turn to in the event they need help paying out claims.

  • What they’re saying: “The reinsurance pricing environment, in a word, has been frustrating,” Brian Young, CEO of reinsurer Odyssey Group, said at a recent industry conference.
2. Recession risk fades

S&P Global Ratings says there is now a 30% chance the U.S. economy enters a recession in the next 12 months — scaling back the 35% recession risk it forecast in August.

Why it matters: A slew of Wall Street economists and analysts now see the outlook for the U.S. economy as rosier than a few months ago. That sentiment is reflected in the stock market, which closed at another record high yesterday.

3. By the numbers: the SEC’s 2019 cases
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Reproduced from Cornerstone Research; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of cases the SEC filed against publicly traded companies hit at least a decade-high this year, according to findings from New York University and Cornerstone Research that analyzed the SEC’s annual report.

  • Total cases initiated by the SEC — against public companies or not — jumped to the highest level since 2016.

Between the lines: The jump is explained by the agency’s initiative that encouraged financial firms to self-report instances where advisers sold certain fee-paying mutual funds to clients over other funds. (In return for self-reporting, those companies will pay a small fee and don’t have to admit wrongdoing.)

  • This accounted for actions against 95 companies in total (26 public).

Why it matters: Over 50 of the enforcement actions on public company and subsidiaries targeted investment advisers or brokers — a nod to SEC chairman Jay Clayton’s emphasis on protecting the retail investor since taking the helm.

By the numbers: The SEC settled with Mylan, KPMG and Fiat Chrysler this year, among others. The highest dollar figure settlement this year against a publicly traded company came to $147 million.

  • That’s the lowest maximum penalty for a public company in the report’s 10-year history.
  • 72% of public companies that faced enforcement action settled by paying a fine and cooperating with the SEC.
  • 20% paid a fine but didn’t cooperate.

The bottom line: For all enforcement activity, including cases brought against individuals, the SEC took in $4.3 billion in fines and disgorgements (or the return of profits gained illegally) though a single case against a privately held real estate investing firm accounted for $1 billion of that amount.

  • That’s up from $3.9 billion in penalties for 2018.

P.S. Enforcement activity by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission slowed to 63 from last year’s 83 cases, the agency said on Monday.

  • The derivatives regulator collected $1.3 billion in penalties and payments — a 40% jump year-over-year and the fourth highest in CFTC history.
4. Powell's last word

Jerome Powell. Photo: Win McNamee via Getty Images

Fed chair Jerome Powell said the Fed’s monetary policy stance is appropriate, for now, though he noted the central bank is not on a “preset course,” in a speech Monday night.

Why it matters: It was Powell's final public remarks — and the last opportunity to recalibrate market expectations — before the Fed enters its "quiet period" ahead of the next interest rate decision.

  • The message from Powell, along with other members of the FOMC, has been consistent: After three consecutive rate cuts, the Fed is waiting to see how the trade war, and other risks to economic growth, shake out.
5. 1 📊 thing: Stiglitz calls for the end of GDP

Joseph Stiglitz. Photo: Julia Reinhart via Getty Images

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz renewed calls to retire GDP as the go-to economic indicator.

" So what if GDP goes up, if most citizens are worse off? ... [I]t should be clear that, in spite of the increases in GDP, in spite of the 2008 crisis being well behind us, everything is not fine."
— Joseph Stiglitz, in op-ed for The Guardian

The big picture: Calls to revamp GDP, no matter how unlikely, are no longer coming from the corners of academia. They're seeping into the mainstream.

  • Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang called for a "GDP upgrade" that measures quality of life, happiness, clean air and clean water, among other things at a CNN town hall in September.
  • And there was a hearing on Capitol Hill calling on the Commerce Department to provide regular breakdowns of GDP growth by income bracket.
Dion Rabouin

Did you know: When Janet Yellen ran the Fed, she got hate emails from angry savers who wanted higher interest rates. Apparently, her email address at the time — — wasn't hard to figure out.