AN EXCEPTIONALLY large number of natural catastrophes occurred last year, according to Munich Re, with losses in excess of $90bn and insured losses of $15bn.

This was the second-highest total ever, and the fourth-largest total in terms of insured losses. Around 50,000 people lost their lives as a result (compared with just 13,000 in 1997).

Around 90% of the insured losses were caused by windstorms and floods. Tropical cyclones accounted for most of the deaths, including Cyclone 03 A in Gujurat in India with more than 10,000 fatalities, and Hurricane Mitch which claimed more than 9,000 lives, largely in Honduras and Nicaragua.

Tropical cyclones also accounted for much of the insured losses, including Typhoon Vicki in Japan, and Hurricane Georges in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico which caused insured losses of $3.3bn, the third-most expensive hurricane in US insurance history.

The large number of natural disasters, and tropical cyclones in particular, was largely the result of the tail-end of EI Nino and La Nina. According to Munich Re, 1998 was by far the warmest year since measurements began, reflecting the effects of global warming.

Munich Re warns that “even radical environmental protection measures cannot prevent the occurrence of ever more and ever costlier natural catastrophes worldwide”.

• See ‘Ten major natural disasters 1998 – worldwide’ and ‘Ten major natural disasters 1998 – Europe’.

AXA snaps up GRE

AFTER months of speculation and rumours of a tie-up with Royal & SunAlliance, Guardian Royal Exchange (GRE) was finally acquired by the French insurance group AXA for €3.4bn.

AXA bought GRE through its UK subsidiary Sun Life and Provincial Holdings (SLPH), which is 71.6% owned by AXA.
SLPH will keep GRE UK and Ireland for €1.879bn and will sell GRE Overseas to AXA for €972m. AXA has agreed to sell GRE Germany to AXA Colonia for €588m, while GRE US is to be sold to Liberty Mutual for $1.465bn.

As a result of the sale, SLPH claims it will be number three in general insurance in the UK, number two in UK healthcare insurance, and number one in general insurance in Ireland.

AXA is now a major force in Europe, following a string of mergers and acquisitions in recent years, including UAP, Provincial, Equity & Law, Sun Life, and now GRE. It is thought that AXA will use its name branding on all products and the GRE brand is expected to disappear.

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