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Hurricanes Harvey and Irma substantially impacted the lives and infrastructure of all that was in their paths. They also directly impacted certain investments, namely catastrophe bonds, (“cat bonds”). Catastrophe bonds can help diversify a bond portfolio’s rate, credit and currency risk with non-correlating nature risk. Cat bonds are issued by insurance companies that pool property and casualty policies. They pay coupons to the bondholder using the policy premiums received. However, when a natural disaster occurs, the principal of a cat bond can be used to pay insurance claims on the pool of policies. Historically, annual cat bond returns average 5% to 10%.
This week’s chart shows the Swiss Re Cat Bond Index on the top compared to the Credit Suisse High Yield Bond Index on the bottom. Hurricane Harvey caused only a negligible 0.3% decline in the cat bond index followed by a 0.5% rebound, since the most severe damage came from flooding. Flooding is generally not covered by cat bonds, as cat bonds primarily cover hurricane damages associated with wind. However, Hurricane Irma caused a 16% initial decline, as the index has roughly 20% exposure to Florida hurricanes. Moreover, the state of Florida requires that all homeowners hold hurricane insurance.
Hurricane Irma qualifies as one of the top 10 costliest natural disasters ever recorded, with damage estimates ranging from $50 billion to $100 billion. It is akin to the 2008 housing crisis for the corporate credit and equity markets. The bottom chart shows the high yield bond index declining during the 2008 housing crisis by 33% peak-to-trough, which was over twice the initial decline of the cat bond index due to Hurricane Irma. With recent damage estimates adjusted downwards from an initial overshoot, the Swiss Re Cat Bond Index has already rebounded by 10% only a few days after Irma struck. This makes its net decline 6% to-date as the index continues to recover, showing inherent resilience in the cat bond market. Our thoughts are with those affected by these recent disasters.
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