Reinsurance Losses Swamps Berkshire in Australia

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)



The old saying is “when it rains, it pours,” and boy did it rain in Australia this April and May.

It’s no secret that Charlie Munger has cooled on the reinsurance business, and recent losses in Australia only add to a situation where profits are hard to come by due to increased competition.

In the 2nd quarter of 2015, Berkshire reported $155 million in losses from storm damage on Australia’s east coast.

Through its Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group, Berkshire provides reinsurance to Suncorp and Insurance Australia Group.

A Double-Whammy Brings Billion-Dollar Losses

A severe late-April storm that hit Sidney cut off roads, washed away houses and brought 13,000 calls for help. A second severe storm in the beginning of May hit south east Queensland. The storm gave Brisbane its wettest day in 175 years.

The combined storms brought $1.55 billion in claims from more than 20,000 policy holders.

Munger Cool on Reinsurance

Storms or no storms, Berkshire is not generating the profits it used to from reinsurance.

“The reinsurance business not as good as it once was and is unlikely to get better,” Charlie Munger said at the 2015 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. “Money has come in, not because they want to be in reinsurance, but because it’s an uncorrelated asset class. We’re in it for the long haul.”

Uncorrelated (also called non-correlated) asset classes are assets that move in the opposite direction of a particular asset class, thus helping investors reduce risk in exchange for lower upside performance.

Munger’s words were echoed by Ajit Jain, who is the head of Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance. “What was a very lucrative business is no longer a very lucrative business going forward” Jain was quoted in The Wall Street Journal.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.