(Adds industry detail and background)
ZURICH, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Swiss Re, the world's second-largest reinsurer, on Thursday posted a $468 million nine-month net loss after disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and Australia's Cyclone Debbie socked the reinsurer with an expected $4 billion in natural catastrophe claims.
Despite the earnings blow, it said it would proceed with a proposed share buyback of up to 1 billion Swiss francs ($1.00 billion) that starts on Friday, adding it was able to absorb the losses and maintain financial flexibility due to strong capitalisation.
The Zurich-based group joined a chorus of insurers and reinsurers looking to raise rates after what looks set to be their most costly quarter on record.
"We expect pricing conditions to improve going forward not only in reinsurance but also in commercial insurance," Chief Executive Christian Mumenthaler said in a statement.
"We are strongly positioned to work with our partners to capture market opportunities when they arise, as they often do after such events."
Its nine-month property and casualty combined ratio, a measure of underwriting profitability, rose to 114.1 percent on the back of the heavy natural disaster claims. A figure above 100 percent indicates a loss.
Swiss Re and other reinsurers act as financial backstops for insurance companies, helping them cover the cost of claims from natural and man-made disasters.
Despite hurting profits, higher catastrophe costs can ease pressure on pricing in reinsurance markets.
The industry, which derives a portion of earnings directly from premiums when these exceed loss payouts and another from investments on the huge sums of capital reinsurers must hold, has been squeezed for years by falling industry prices coupled with low interest rates.
A turnaround in prices would be the first major reversal since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
($1 = 0.9992 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Michael Shields)