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Following are excerpts from a CNBC interview with Zurich Insurance CEO, Mario Greco, and CNBC's Geoff Cutmore and Steve Sedgwick.
GC: Well, let's bring in Mario Greco, then, the CEO of Zurich Insurance, and Mario, let-, let's just pick up from our conversation about the trade spat between the United States and China here. One of the big hopes, I think, for the insurance sector, globally, has been China, and the take-up of insurance product has been phenomenal, and the margin has been terrific. To what extent should you be concerned that this trade war, if it escalates, may lead to western companies getting squeezed out of this market?
MG: Uh, the trade war is actually driven by the technology changes, which are underlying all that's happening in the economy today, so I think this is something that is-, is going to continue over time, there is a division between the technology developments in US and in China, and this-, although China and the US are talking, and we are hopeful that there will be a getting together, or a-, a closing the gap, over the next weeks, we do think that the technology issue will remain for a longer time.
GC: You and George, though, have said on many occasions, to me, that China is a strategic priority for the group. Does it remain so, and does the fallout from this row mean that you have to change the way you think about operating in that marketplace?
MG: You definitely have to work in China, China is such a big market, for a global corporation that we are, that you have to be there, and you have to grow your presence in China, there is no doubt about it. But China is also spreading influence, all through Asia, and all through the world. We recently made an important acquisition in Indonesia, which is a huge country there in Asia, and we expect that to be extremely beneficial for us over the next years.
SS: Let me move on to talk about more domestic European issues, as well, and the-, in your November update, the P&C showing signs of life, a 2% increase, I think it was, in premiums, as well. Now, those that have come in to the insurance sector, because of QE, because of the flood of liquidity around, as well, any sign that that's abating? Or is it still as tough on pricing as ever?
MG: Uh, 2018 was a tough year for catastrophes, natural catastrophes, especially in Q4, which is quite new, I mean, usually Q4 was a very calm and quiet quarter, actually, last year, it turned out to be a devastating quarter for catastrophes, especially in the US, with the wildfires in California. So catastrophes have hit the market, we expect that this will produce a positive impact on pricing in 2019. And yes, I mean, we have been growing, and the signs we have, about the beginning of this year, are quite positive, we continue growing the Property & Casualty.
SS: And-, and-, and we-, we've looked-, we've learnt to understand the model catastrophe, year one is a problem, years two, three, four, you can make money back out of the market. But in terms of my point about the flood of extra money, because of what your counterpart-, your-, your countryman has been doing at the ECB, and-,
SS: He'll-, he'll never get to raise rates, over at the ECB, as well, which is quite extraordinary. How much are the ramifications from that still affecting the insurance industry?
MG: It is-, it is-, it is affecting, I mean, last year, rates have been, um, you know, too low, because of this flow of capital and liquidity in to the market. You know, after the catastrophes in '17, we expected much stronger price increases, and they were calmed down by the liquidity provided to the market. Let's see what happens this year, we think that this year the prices will move up, the fact that capital is flowing out of many markets, we see that as a positive, as a sign that markets are re-establishing their balance.
GC: Mario, real pleasure catching up, thanks so much for joining us here. Mario Greco, the CEO of Zurich Insurance.