While California wildfires may seem far removed from Atlantic storms, for capital markets investors the fires may make the difference to how 2018 is remembered. Insurance Linked Securities (ILS) eyes are now trained on multi-peril aggregate catastrophe bonds.
When I was a kid, my favorite breakfast cereal was Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes. As a teenager in the 1980s, I recall that the name changed to Frosted Flakes. In 1983, to appeal to a more health-conscious consumer, Kellogg simply dropped “sugar” from the name. And around the same time, Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks became Honey Smacks. There didn’t seem to be a dramatic reduction in sugar. Even today, sugar makes up over 55 percent of the total content of Honey Smacks and is the lead ingredient. Honey trails at fourth. The idea was … if the consumer didn’t see the word sugar, they wouldn’t necessarily jump to the conclusion that it was loaded with sugar. One could argue that this was just a marketing ploy – yet most would agree it secured marketing appeal by removing a potential distraction from its name.
At the time of writing, the recent Camp and Woolsey Fires in California have burned a combined total of 245,000 acres (93,000 hectares) — an area about the size of Dallas. These fires have destroyed more than 12,000 homes and businesses, and killed 80 civilians. Ordinarily these would be called extreme events. But these are not ordinary times. After back-to-back record breaking wildfire seasons, including the Wine Country fires (US$11 billion) and Southern California Fires (US$2.3 billion) in 2017, and the Carr Fire (~US$1.2 billion) and Mendocino Complex fires (~US$200 million) this year in July, California Governor Jerry Brown perfectly summed up the current situation in his state: “This is the new abnormal.”
As firefighters make continuing progress on containment of both fires, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) is quickly assembling an inventory of each burned structure, to detail the extent of the damage. Based on this data, plus a simulated reconstruction of the event’s wind, moisture, fuel, and fire spread parameters, RMS estimates the insured damage at between US$7.5 billion and US$10 billion for the Camp Fire, and US$1.5 billion and US$3 billion for the Woolsey Fire. This estimate accounts for burn and smoke damage; structure, contents, business interruption (BI), and additional living expenses (ALE) payouts; damage to autos; and modest post loss amplification (PLA) that may result from surges in labor costs, ordinance and law endorsements, and related coverage extensions.
Like many communities in California with a mild climate, affordable housing, and scenic wilderness, Butte County (pop. ~230,000) has grown significantly over the past four decades. Broadly, this growth is happening all around the county — both in cities (e.g. Chico, the county seat and largest city, pop. ~94,000) as well as in more rural areas. Looking more closely, however, the specific spatial patterns of Butte’s development reveal conditions that set the stage for the ongoing Camp Fire to become one of the deadliest and most destructive fires in California history.
Chris Folkman, senior director of product management at RMS, was interviewed by Paula Newton on CNN’s Quest Means Business program on Monday, November 12, about the impact of the California wildfires.
Paula asked Chris about the range of factors that have made these wildfires so intense, and also about the potential causes of the fires. Chris explained how the fires could have started and how the almost perfect conditions for the fire produced such a rapid spread. For the Camp Fire in Northern California, deaths were caused by the fire’s sheer speed that had overwhelmed residents as they tried to escape from the path of the flames.
Describing the scale and savagery of the wildfires currently burning in California is difficult to do, but a simple recounting of the statistics is a good starting point. They are thus:
At the time of writing, fifteen wildfires are now burning more than 280,000 acres (~113,000 hectares) in California. Collectively, they have laid waste to almost 7,000 homes and businesses. 31 people have died in the fires. 300,000 more were evacuated. 12,000 firefighters are working the front lines, making admirable progress at containment.
The biggest of these events, the Camp Fire (named for the road of its point of origin) is the most destructive wildfire in history, with 6,700 structures burned. During a period of particularly intense wind, it spread at a rate of more than one football field per second. Entire towns in its path are effectively destroyed.
Catastrophe modeling remains work in progress. With each upgrade we aim to build a better model, employing expanded data sets for hazard calibration, longer simulation runs, more detailed exposure data, and higher resolution digital terrain models (DTMs).
Yet the principal way that the catastrophe model “learns” still comes from the experience of actual disasters. What elements, or impacts, were previously not fully appreciated? What loss pattern is new? How do actual claims relate to the severity of the hazard, or change with time through shifts in the claiming process?
After a particularly catastrophic season we give presentations around ”the lessons from last year’s catastrophes.” We should make it a practice, a few years later, to recount how those lessons became implemented in the models.
As an organization, it is always great to get recognition from the industry for the work that you are doing; and industry recognition does make a real difference to the teams that work so hard to produce robust, quality solutions that are solving the problems that the market faces. And so, on September 27, off we went to Cipriani 25 on Broadway in New York, for the Eleventh Reactions Annual North America Awards, with RMS receiving the “2018 North America Risk Modeler of the Year” award.
This award is decided by votes from the industry and it recognizes our reputation for providing best-in-class support and leadership to our North America clients, and especially at times when insight is so critical to a business — such as during the significant cat events that ran through 2017. It also provides an endorsement for the approach that RMS is taking more generally to anticipate and deliver on the needs of the North America market, to keep pushing the boundaries and break new ground, to help a growing client base across the industry ranging from reinsurers and carriers through to capital markets.
Memories of last year’s Wine Country fires in Northern California and the Thomas Fire in Southern California are top of mind as we look at the unfolding wildfire events across the state, especially the notable Carr Fire to the northwest of the city of Redding in Shasta County, with a population of around 92,000.
Initial observations show similarities to the Wine Country fires in terms of its speed and ferocity, as the Carr Fire spread rapidly overnight on Saturday, July 28, nearly doubling in size. As of 02:00 UTC on Thursday, August 2, the fire is reported to have burned about 121,000 acres (~49,000 hectares) — see figure one below, destroying 1,546 structures, damaging an additional 255 structures, and forcing the evacuation of 38,000 people, according to CAL FIRE and local officials.
This is a taster of an article published in the latest edition of EXPOSURE magazine. For the full article click here or visit the EXPOSURE website.
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria (HIM) tore through the Caribbean and U.S. in 2017, resulting in insured losses over US$80 billion. Twelve years after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma (KRW), EXPOSURE asks if the (re)insurance industry was better prepared for its next “terrible trio” and what lessons can be learned.