State Regulators Working with Berkshire Hathaway on Nationwide Bond Insurance License Application

A group of state insurance regulators says it's working with Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway on a single "streamlined" application for licenses to sell bond insurance in all 50 states.

In a statement about its efforts to "ensure the continued strength and stability" of the market for bond insurance, the National Association of Insurance Commissionerssays, "We are taking any and all necessary steps - including the expedited licensure of companies like Berkshire - to ensure a healthy and competitive insurance market."

Specifically, the NAIC (which describes itselfas a "voluntary organization of the chief insurance regulatory officials of the 50 states") has a pilot program that would allow Berkshire's new bond insurance company, Berkshire Hathaway Assurance Corporation, to submit just one license application that would then go to all 50 states for their review and approval.

The NAIC tells me Berkshire is on board with the idea of applying simultaneously to all 50 states. The group plans a February 6 conference call for regulators to give the go-ahead for the single-application pilot program.

Remember that even if Berkshire does get licenses to sell bond insurance in all 50 states, and it probably will, that doesn't necessarily mean Warren Buffett & Co. will be actually writing bond insurance policies in every state right away. It will be up to Berkshire to determine what states it will do business in, and when. It could be years, rather than months, before BHAS is fully operational nationwide, if it ever is.

Berkshire Hathaway Assurance is already licensed in New York State, but Berkshire's insurance chief Ajit Jain recently told the New York Times, "We're tip-toeing into the market, doing very small deals." (He also told us a couple of weeks ago that he wouldn't rule out the possibility of partneringwith one of the more established bond insurers like Ambac or MBIA.)

It was New York State Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo who first approached Berkshireabout setting up a bond insurance subsidiary. Like other regulators, he's concerned that state and municipalities will have a tough time selling their debt if troubled bond insurers like MBIA and Ambac lose their AAA credit ratingsfrom S&P and Moody's, as has been threatened.

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