Monday, December 18, 2006

Securitising mortality

SwissRe's latest issue of Sigma is dedicated to Securitisation - new opportunities for insurers and investors. It presents a good overview of structures, instruments and recent developments in the market for insurance linked securities (ILS), which has been booming in recent years, and is expected to continue to do so because of its more favourable regulatory treatment in the context of Solvency II and a dearth in insurance capacity otherwise.

The hitherto virtually untapped market segment of extreme mortality might prove to be exceptionally interesting for pension funds because of its potentially long duration, its size and its natural hedging capacity for pension funds: a mortality bond's payout is negatively related to longevity, which is one of the principal risk factors affecting pension funds' liabilities. To be an effective hedge, the populations covered need to overlap significantly, though. SwissRe estimates a current market size of USD 5'500 bio, which it expects to grow to USD 7'000 bio by 2010.

A word of caution is in order, though (which is notably absent from the SwissRe paper). Insurance capacity is a highly cyclical asset with short cycles and high variance. Therefore it is likely that broader capital markets will be tapped when capacity is relatively scarce & expensive. Insurers will thus tend to offer relatively less favourable terms in order to take advantage of the broader market's limited sophistication & knowledge of insurance cycles.

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