2017 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

Coastal Mortgage Value Collapse

As seas rise, so does the risk that buyers will become leery of taking on mortgages along our coasts. 
By: | April 7, 2017 • 7 min read

Rising seas encroach on our cities and towns at rates exponentially greater than before.

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So-called King Tides, urged on by climate change and brought about by the close alignment of the sun, the moon and the earth are already producing flooding in Miami 10 days a year.

Debate the cause if you want to expend more hot air denying science. But it’s a fact that resale values of coastal homes in Miami, Atlantic City and Norfolk, Va. are already starting to erode.

These bellwether locations signify a growing and alarming threat; that continually rising seas will damage coastal residential and commercial property values to the point that property owners will flee those markets in droves, thus precipitating a mortgage value collapse that could equal or exceed the mortgage crisis that rocked the global economy in 2008.

“Insurance deals with extreme weather and billions of dollars of losses, but what we are talking about is uninsured loss of fair market value that is trillions of dollars in losses and I am not talking about in 2100, I’m talking about the next mortgage cycle,” said Albert Slap, president of Coastal Risk Consulting, a Florida firm that provides lot by lot modeling of flood risk.

Models created by Coastal Risk Consulting show flooding rates of Miami properties are going to rise substantially between now and 2050, within that 30–year mortgage cycle he refers to.

Albert Slap, president, Coastal Risk Consulting

“The results of our modeling and that of NOAA and many others shows that the increase in flooding on people’s properties, due to astronomy and physics, not weather, is alarming and significant and in all likelihood is not backstopped by insurance,” Slap said.

Adding to the threat is that real estate agents and homeowners aren’t incentivized or required to reveal how frequently properties flood, or how exposed they are to flooding.

“Forty percent of Americans live on the coast, which means you have trillions of dollars at risk for climate change that hasn’t been modeled for default increases,” Slap said.

The Pew Charitable Trusts, as part of its testimony to Congress as the National Flood Insurance Program undergoes review, is asking that all homeowners be required to report on that risk.

Many coastal homes are backstopped by the NFIP, which is still billions in debt from its losses in the Katrina-Wilma-Rita hurricane cycle of 2005.

Private sector insurers are eyeing ways to write more flood business. But if the NFIP suffers further losses, and private sector insurers retreat, what then?

“If you look at it systematically, if a broad number of insurance companies decide that they need to triple homeowners insurance rates, or they need to pull out of a local market, that would create a lot of problems in terms of the value of the properties that are in that locale,” said Cynthia McHale, president of insurance for Ceres, a nonprofit that advocates for sustainable business practices.

In November, Sean Becketti, the chief economist for the economic and housing research group at Freddie Mac, the federally backed housing lender, co-authored a paper that documented this very risk.

The paper referenced the fact that daily high-water levels in Miami are increasing at a rate of an inch per year, much faster than the rate of global sea-level rise. Other cities along the Eastern seaboard are experiencing a 10-fold increase in the frequency of flooding, according to Freddie Mac.

“A large share of homeowners’ wealth is locked up in the equity in their homes,” Becketti wrote.

“If those homes become uninsurable and unmarketable, the values of the homes will plummet, perhaps to zero.”

“Forty percent of Americans live on the coast, which means you have trillions of dollars at risk for climate change that hasn’t been modeled for default increases.” —Albert Slap, president, Coastal Risk Consulting

In the housing crisis of 2008, according to Becketti, a significant percentage of borrowers continued to make their mortgage payments even though the value of their homes was less than their mortgages.

Cynthia McHale, president of insurance, Ceres

“It is less likely that borrowers will continue to make mortgage payments if their homes are literally underwater,” Becketti said.

“As a result, lenders, servicers and mortgage insurers are likely to suffer large losses,” he said.

Insurers would suffer, according to Ceres’ McHale, and not just as backers of insurance policies.

“Insurance companies themselves are major commercial and residential mortgage holders,” she said.

“They assume that the property is going to hold its value and act as collateral if needed. If it doesn’t hold its value, where is the collateral?”

“Not only will their mortgages be metaphorically underwater, they are going to be literally underwater,” said Slap.

“And there is no coming back from it.”

“The New York Times” published a piece in November that detailed the case of Roy and Carol Baker of Sarasota, Fla. The Bakers tried for months to sell their home in Siesta Key, according to the story, but buyers kept backing out when they discovered the annual flood insurance premium was about $7,000.

“This experience will become more common, economists say, as the federal government shifts away from subsidizing flood insurance rates to get premiums closer to reflecting the true market cost of the risk,” reporter Ian Urbina wrote in his piece.

The Climate Race

What Becketti, Slap and others say is true, said Helen Thompson, a director, commercial marketing at Esri, the mapping and analytics company that works with insurers and property owners.

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But she said there is a solution, the public and private sector working together to address the problem: That and about $4 trillion.

“The challenge for a lot of people is to understand the scope and the scale of this issue, and in some ways, like the mortgage bubble before, if you are ignorant of the problem, you can’t fix it,” she said.

“I think taking action means crafting a discussion of the problem and moderated expressions of what those solutions are, based on science and analysis and not hyperbole,” she said.

It’s well documented how dire the nation’s infrastructure needs are.

Thompson compares the current dilemma posed by climate change and sea rise in the U.S. and elsewhere to the cholera epidemic that ravaged London in the mid-19th century. What’s needed now, she said, is something akin to the massive public works projects that were undertaken to provide Londoners with cleaner drinking water.

“They realized the social and political cost of this,” Thompson said.

“We need to change our thinking to say this is not just about handing debt to our children, it’s about maintaining the same level of opportunity and quality of life for our children,” she said.

Thompson points to China, which she says is investing in climate change-resistant ports and additional infrastructure internationally to remain economically competitive.

“It’s in their best interests as a global manufacturing hub to mitigate the cost and the impact of climate change because of how much collateral damage it will do to their economies,” Thompson said.

Helen Thompson, director, commercial marketing, Esri

She said the U.S. needs to go down the same path, and step on it.

“I call it the ‘climate race,’ like the space race,” she said.

“The infrastructure needs to be created to deal with this, and the United States is massively lagging.”

Slap envisions another solution, a “climate ready” mortgage program, similar to the federal government’s energy efficient mortgage program, which gives property owners federally guaranteed loans to make energy efficiency upgrades.

Such a program would provide loans for sewage backflow preventers, changing the grade on a driveway, or elevating a home on a platform

Thompson said the massive infrastructure projects she envisions could include moving the vital container operations at the Port of Miami inland and constructing a berm to defend against sea water.

Office building owners in Lower Manhattan, which was so damaged by Superstorm Sandy, are increasingly investing in flood prevention barricades and moving critical building components like HVAC and plumbing components to higher floors.

Americans just got a chilling reminder of the dangers presented by changing weather patterns and crumbling infrastructure. Fears that the Oroville Dam on California’s Feather River would buckle under heavy rainfall got everyone’s attention.

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“People are looking at that and saying, ‘We didn’t realize what this change in weather patterns means in the long term,’ ” Thompson said, and they are relating the Oroville event to infrastructure in their own towns and the risks they present.

As the NFIP undergoes its annual review in Congress, Slap said administrators would do well to exclude King Tide events.

“If you were to go to NFIP and ask them if they cover King Tide flooding, they would say, ‘If it meets our definition of flood then we must cover it.’ This is a red flag, because what you are saying is the government and the taxpayers are covering sea level rise and that is not something we can afford,” Slap said. &

________________________________________________________________

2017 Most Dangerous Emerging Risks

Artificial Intelligence Ties Liability in Knots

The same technologies that drive business forward are upending the nature of loss exposures and presenting new coverage challenges.

 

 

Cyber Business Interruption

Attacks on internet infrastructure begin, leaving unknown risks for insureds and insurers alike.

 

 

U.S. Economic Nationalism

Nationalistic policies aim to boost American wealth and prosperity, but they may do long-term economic damage.

 

 

Foreign Economic Nationalism

Economic nationalism is upsetting the risk management landscape by presenting challenges in once stable environments.

 

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Alternative Energy

A Shift in the Wind

As warranties run out on wind turbines, underwriters gain insight into their long-term costs.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 6 min read

Wind energy is all grown up. It is no longer an alternative, but in some wholesale markets has set the incremental cost of generation.

As the industry has grown, turbine towers have as well. And as the older ones roll out of their warranty periods, there are more claims.

This is a bit of a pinch in a soft market, but it gives underwriters new insight into performance over time — insight not available while manufacturers were repairing or replacing components.

Charles Long, area SVP, renewable energy, Arthur J. Gallagher

“There is a lot of capacity in the wind market,” said Charles Long, area senior vice president for renewable energy at broker Arthur J. Gallagher.

“The segment is still very soft. What we are not seeing is any major change in forms from the major underwriters. They still have 280-page forms. The specialty underwriters have a 48-page form. The larger carriers need to get away from a standard form with multiple endorsements and move to a form designed for wind, or solar, or storage. It is starting to become apparent to the clients that the firms have not kept up with construction or operations,” at renewable energy facilities, he said.

Third-party liability also remains competitive, Long noted.

“The traditional markets are doing liability very well. There are opportunities for us to market to multiple carriers. There is a lot of generation out there, but the bulk of the writing is by a handful of insurers.”

Broadly the market is “still softish,” said Jatin Sharma, head of business development for specialty underwriter G-Cube.

“There has been an increase in some distressed areas, but there has also been some regional firming. Our focus is very much on the technical underwriting. We are also emphasizing standardization, clean contracts. That extends to business interruption, marine transit, and other covers.”

The Blade Problem

“Gear-box maintenance has been a significant issue for a long time, and now with bigger and bigger blades, leading-edge erosion has become a big topic,” said Sharma. “Others include cracking and lightning and even catastrophic blade loss.”

Long, at Gallagher, noted that operationally, gear boxes have been getting significantly better. “Now it is blades that have become a concern,” he said. “Problems include cracking, fraying, splitting.

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“In response, operators are using more sophisticated inspection techniques, including flying drones. Those reduce the amount of climbing necessary, reducing risk to personnel as well.”

Underwriters certainly like that, and it is a huge cost saver to the owners, however, “we are not yet seeing that credited in the underwriting,” said Long.

He added that insurance is playing an important role in the development of renewable energy beyond the traditional property, casualty, and liability coverages.

“Most projects operate at lower capacity than anticipated. But they can purchase coverage for when the wind won’t blow or the sun won’t shine. Weather risk coverage can be done in multiple ways, or there can be an actual put, up to a fixed portion of capacity, plus or minus 20 percent, like a collar; a straight over/under.”

As useful as those financial instruments are, the first priority is to get power into the grid. And for that, Long anticipates “aggressive forward moves around storage. Spikes into the system are not good. Grid storage is not just a way of providing power when the wind is not blowing; it also acts as a shock absorber for times when the wind blows too hard. There are ebbs and flows in wind and solar so we really need that surge capacity.”

Long noted that there are some companies that are storage only.

“That is really what the utilities are seeking. The storage company becomes, in effect, just another generator. It has its own [power purchase agreement] and its own interconnect.”

“Most projects operate at lower capacity than anticipated. But they can purchase coverage for when the wind won’t blow or the sun won’t shine.”  —Charles Long, area senior vice president for renewable energy, Arthur J. Gallagher

Another trend is co-location, with wind and solar, as well as grid-storage or auxiliary generation, on the same site.

“Investors like it because it boosts internal rates of return on the equity side,” said Sharma. “But while it increases revenue, it also increases exposure. … You may have a $400 million wind farm, plus a $150 million solar array on the same substation.”

In the beginning, wind turbines did not generate much power, explained Rob Battenfield, senior vice president and head of downstream at JLT Specialty USA.

“As turbines developed, they got higher and higher, with bigger blades. They became more economically viable. There are still subsidies, and at present those subsidies drive the investment decisions.”

For example, some non-tax paying utilities are not eligible for the tax credits, so they don’t invest in new wind power. But once smaller companies or private investors have made use of the credits, the big utilities are likely to provide a ready secondary market for the builders to recoup their capital.

That structure also affects insurance. More PPAs mandate grid storage for intermittent generators such as wind and solar. State of the art for such storage is lithium-ion batteries, which have been prone to fires if damaged or if they malfunction.

“Grid storage is getting larger,” said Battenfield. “If you have variable generation you need to balance that. Most underwriters insure generation and storage together. Project leaders may need to have that because of non-recourse debt financing. On the other side, insurers may be syndicating the battery risk, but to the insured it is all together.”

“Grid storage is getting larger. If you have variable generation you need to balance that.” — Rob Battenfield, senior vice president, head of downstream, JLT Specialty USA

There has also been a mechanical and maintenance evolution along the way. “The early-generation short turbines were throwing gears all the time,” said Battenfield.

But now, he said, with fewer manufacturers in play, “the blades, gears, nacelles, and generators are much more mechanically sound and much more standardized. Carriers are more willing to write that risk.”

There is also more operational and maintenance data now as warranties roll off. Battenfield suggested that the door started to open on that data three or four years ago, but it won’t stay open forever.

“When the equipment was under warranty, it would just be repaired or replaced by the manufacturer,” he said.

“Now there’s more equipment out of warranty, there are more claims. However, if the big utilities start to aggregate wind farms, claims are likely to drop again. That is because the utilities have large retentions, often about $5 million. Claims and premiums are likely to go down for wind equipment.”

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Repair costs are also dropping, said Battenfield.

“An out-of-warranty blade set replacement can cost $300,000. But if it is repairable by a third party, it could cost as little as $30,000 to have a specialist in fiberglass do it in a few days.”

As that approach becomes more prevalent, business interruption (BI) coverage comes to the fore. Battenfield stressed that it is important for owners to understand their PPA obligations, as well as BI triggers and waiting periods.

“The BI challenge can be bigger than the property loss,” said Battenfield. “It is important that coverage dovetails into the operator’s contractual obligations.” &

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]