Weather and Natural Disasters

Hurricane Irma will hammer insurance industry — up to $65 billion in damage is projected

Key Points
  • The insurance industry will need to brace for billions in claims related to Hurricane Irma, a firm has projected.
  • The hurricane is expected to sweep through Florida and into Georgia.
Fort Lauderdale whipped by Hurricane Irma
Fort Lauderdale whipped by Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma will create combined insured losses of $20 billion to $65 billion, according to a projection from risk modeling software company AIR Worldwide.

The company includes in its estimate the United States and selected islands in the Caribbean. For the U.S. alone, insured losses are expected to reach between $15 billion to $50 billion, AIR said.

Although the final costs of Hurricane Harvey are still being tallied, the more powerful Irma has brought Florida to a standstill and is likely to pack a financial wallop along with its human toll.

People enjoy the beaches and fishing pier in Naples before the arrival of Hurricane Irma into Southwest Florida on September 8, 2017 in Bonita Springs, Florida.
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Amid widespread disaster preparations, analysts expect that the government will bear the brunt of these losses, with $2 billion to $4 billion expected to fall to private insurance companies.

"According to AIR, in Florida, close to 80 percent of the total insured value is located in coastal counties, where the amount and value of exposure has been growing significantly for decades," the report noted.

The Miami area is the Southeast's most densely populated region, AIR noted, and since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 has maintained strict codes for hurricane damage.

Expect $2-$4 billion of private insured losses from Harvey: FBR Capital's Randy Binner
Expect $2-$4 billion of private insured losses from Harvey: FBR Capital's Randy Binner

"As in the case of the 2004 hurricane season, significant damage may be expected to roof covers related to installation and attachment methods," AIR wrote. "Manufactured homes are vulnerable to significant damage during hurricanes and their performance tends to be a function of age and of the regulations under which the home was constructed and installed."

Irma's 130 mph wind and heavy rain reached the Florida Keys on Sunday, and the storm was heading toward the state's west coast toward Tampa.

"The financial impact on the insurance industry is probably going to be a little bit lower than initially expected. I think what is interesting is the impact on the insurance industry is probably more from the fact that we have now two storms in a relatively short period of time," Niklaus Hilti, managing director and CEO of Credit Suisse Insurance Linked Strategies, told CNBC on Monday.

"The hurricane season is not yet over so with Harvey, with Irma, I think we definitely talk of the insurance industry already (seeing) around $60 to $70 billion of insured losses," he added.