Negative outlook for the Spanish insurance market

Spain’s GDP grew by 5.2%, indicating resilient economic activity despite the threats posed by the fallout of Russian War in Ukraine.

Non-life gross written premium (GWP) grew by 5.2%, although this is nominal growth and so not adjusted for inflation.

The growth prospects of the country are challenged by economic uncertainty, according to AM Best.

GWP growth for motor, the largest class of business followed by health, was lower than overall non-life GWP growth. Health insurance GWP grew by 7%, continuing its rapid expansion.

The Spanish non-life insurers have conservative investment portfolios, dominated by fixed-income investments, but with gradual increases towards equity and real estate.

There is a concentration in all classes towards Spanish assets, which exposes insurers to local economic volatility.

The ultra-low interest rate environment came to an end in 2022, and insurers are adapting to the new shift. The sharp uptick in interest rates has translated into significant investment losses for insurers, although these are mainly unrealised.

Negative outlook for Spanish insurance market

According to current projections by IMF, Spain’s economic activity is expected to slow, with 1.1% growth in GDP projected for 2023. This reflects the effects of high energy and food prices, tighter financial conditions, and weaker external demand.

Inflation in Spain averaged 8.3% during 2022, standing at 5.8% in December 2022. In an effort to counteract the effects of inflation, the European Central Bank (ECB) began tightening its monetary policy in July 2022, increasing interest rates for the first time since 2016.

Since then, the ECB has raised interest rates by 300 basis points, from 0% to 3%, the highest level since 2009. Further interest rate hikes are expected for 2023.

Another factor stated in the report is that increasingly volatile weather conditions have posed a challenge to the segment’s profitability. The Spanish natural catastrophe scheme, Consorcio de Compensación de Seguros (Consorcio), plays an important role in underpinning these results.

The compulsory government natural catastrophe scheme covers physical damage caused by natural catastrophe events within Spain and has proven effective in protecting insurers from the downside risks of natural catastrophes.

In 2021, winter storm Filomena caused severe snowfall in the country, leading to business interruption and property losses estimated at around €1.2 billion, well above previous years.

Damage caused by Filomena was only partially covered by the Consorcio, increasing the segment’s extraordinary losses by €400 million.

Rising inflation rates and supply chain disruption have posed challenges for Spain’s non-life insurers by pushing up prices for repairs and replacements, affecting motor physical damage as well as other lines of business.

Increased traffic patterns post-pandemic have also led to a deterioration in loss trends, following the unusually low frequency experienced during the lockdowns that dominated 2020 and 2021. As a result, several of the country’s motor insurers reported a deterioration in combined ratios for motor in 2022, compared with both 2019 and 2021.

While 2022 and 2023 to date have been more benign in terms of weather-related losses in Spain, evolving climate risk is likely to worsen the frequency and severity of weather-related events in the years to come.

Due to the lack of clarity on how to model increases in climate risk, the segment has so far implemented only limited underwriting and pricing actions. To complement the coverage of the Consorcio, Spanish insurers buy reinsurance protection from the commercial market in order to reduce their retention and cover risks that are outside the remit of the Consorcio.

by Nataly Kramer