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Thomas Hickey

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There is a specter haunting Europe: a trio of economic problems that threaten the continent’s prosperity and social stability, all of which revolve around the notion of the “One Percent.”

Similar to many other parts of the world, Europe’s first One Percent challenge involves the relative and absolute enrichment of an already fortunate class – the one percent who are Europe’s wealthiest citizens. The One Percent problems are the possibility of too many years of anemic economic growth of about one percent and “lowflation” — or an inflation rate that hovers around one percent.

Combined, this One Percent Troika translates into the persistence of excessively high unemployment and a damaging debt burden, accentuating what the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, has already described as a fragile and uneven recovery. And the longer this persists, the greater the damage to Europe’s political and social well-being.

All of this is the result of both history and current policies. With the notable exception of Germany, most countries have dragged their feet in implementing reforms to spark economic growth and create jobs. The situation has been further aggravated by an unbalanced economic and financial policy stance that favors those who already control substantial financial assets over the needs of average workers.

Given how close Europe was two years ago to financial fragmentation and economic implosion, some may be tempted to think that the One Percent Troika is not that bad after all. Worsening inequality is tempered by Europe’s welfare system; one percent growth is better than the recession that the region recently experienced; and stable lowflation is not as harmful as outright deflation or unanchored inflation.

It could also be that this troika is sustainable for a while – a sort of low-level, nominal GDP equilibrium that is acceptable to the mainstream political system because it maintains modest forward economic motion, avoids renewed financial crises and secures the support of the business elites.

But this is dangerously short-sighted.

Even if it were sustainable, such a low-level equilibrium would condemn Europe to structurally high unemployment, alarming youth joblessness, a lost generation and a worsening debt burden. Under such conditions, it is even more likely that the political system would be hijacked by fringe parties, causing greater instability and uncertainties. This is also a world in which Europe would find it hard to compete globally.

The One Percent Troika shouldn’t be seen as a signal that things have indeed improved in the last two years in Europe, and that the resulting economic and financial calm can be maintained. Instead, it should be seen as a call for action to pursue and intensify a pro-growth economic agenda. If Europe falls hostage to prolonged policy complacency, the mild stability it enjoys now will give way, at some point, to much harder economic, political and social times.

By Mohamed A.El-Erian, originally published in Bloomberg View on 6/24/14. Reprinted with permission. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
Mohammed El-Erian, Chief Economic Adviser of Allianz.

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The high -end Paris , which stalled in 2013 , returns to the good results at the beginning of the year.

( LaVieImmo.com ) – After dropping the upturn. Daniel Féau network notes lower prices in Paris in 2013 by 9.8% in the segment above 2 million apartments ; sales falling at the same time 7.5 % . The French market has particularly accused shot at the end of 2013 : Sotheby ‘s International Realty , there were only 87 transactions in France, for a sales volume of € 81 million. ” Never seen for 10 years ” in February supported the CEO of Sotheby’s France , Monaco , Alexander Kraft .

And while the international market continued its momentum : prices rose 8.20% last year in London and 10 to 20% overseas. Maintained by the attractiveness of the Silicon Valley, “the San Francisco market has seen its sales over a million dollars to grow by over 60 % in 2013 , prices progressing to their 17% share ,” says does it in Daniel Féau .

With the exception of the capital, in the traditional markets of luxury , only Hong Kong has seen its growth slowed last year . Boasting the fifth largest price increase ( 9.70 %) , the stronghold of Asia has seen its sales fall by 15%. Phenomenon is explained by the introduction of a tax on the transfer , designed to cool a market where the risk of a bubble was becoming louder.

However, the steam seems to be reversing in Paris since the beginning of the year. Between March 2013 and March 2014, the turnover of Daniel Féau increased by 106% , a “consecutive tendency to return to foreign buyers who renounced their acquisition for two years and we see today back , mainly because they are attracted by lower prices , “says the network. Thus, according to Lux- Residence.com , 36% of individuals who intend to buy a prestige within two to come are not French residents. But they were only 22 % a year earlier .

Daniel Féau these buyers ” also finally built they were concerned at the margin ” by higher taxes. As for nationals, they ” return to the Parisian market did not offer long enough exceptional combination of such a plentiful supply at prices which declined sharply , all in a context of very low interest rates ” concludes the network.

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Barometers Retirement always lead to the same conclusion: recent or not reform, the French advance and groped hardly understand anything the current system.

The latest pension reform, published in the Official Journal January 24, 2014 , she has had a positive impact on the French ? To believe two barometers published on March 19 , the text was not convinced , like that of François Fillon in 2010, which had declined the legal age of retirement from 60 to 62 years.
1 French 2 has no idea of the amount of the future pension

* The first study shows that nearly 50 % of respondents are unable to determine what the amount of their pension. A state of affairs that concern , since 63 % think it will not reveal itself to meet their financial needs. 77 % even believe that they will need to find other sources of income when the time comes .

A second barometer only emphasizes the workings , complex , the French pension system . Despite the fact that 60% of respondents agree that the government has improved by creating the career record (41%) and developing custom websites by pension funds (19%) , 80% of French still feel uninformed. In detail, 72% do not find clear system , 71% even consider unfair.
Simulators implausible retirement

In view of the number of retirement simulators now available on the web , one of them , Simul – Retraite.fr , endeavored to obtain the opinion of French on the new support tools . Paradoxical result , if the interviewees acknowledge having ever used , they do not trust them however ! Thus , only 14% are “reliable” a simulator that gives an estimate in 3 clicks and 20 seconds. And the expectation is high: 97% of respondents considered abnormal that governments are unable to provide a retirement calculator official until 2017.

The results of the two barometers unveiled on March 19 confirm those studies that preceded them : our retirement system is too complicated for French . To remedy this, these ( 80%) would support a merger of all cases , including those of civil servants .
* Study conducted by Harris Interactive for the consulting firm Deloitte, was conducted among 4,000 Internet users aged 25 to over 65 years (32% of retirees) from 20 November to 3 December 2013 .
** Barometer conducted by Simul – Retraite.fr and Carac from 2,000 users

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In an industry report card titled “Global Multiline Insurers’ Robust Market Positions And Improving Capital Translate Into Stable Ratings,” published today, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services says that, overall, it considers global multiline insurers (GMIs) to still display better credit quality than other insurance groups or companies.

We believe this stems from their wide geographic and product diversification and generally very strong market positions, which support earnings. In addition, over the past 18 months the GMIs’ capital positions continued to improve, and remain a rating strength. Our ratings on GMIs are still stronger than the average for all insurers we rate, and only three outlooks are negative compared with four at the end of last year. The negative outlooks reflect sovereign or group level issues rather than concerns over those GMIs’ insurance operations.

Low interest rates continue to dampen GMIs’ profitability, however, particularly from life insurance business. Our economists predict a slight increase in long-term interest rates between 2013 and 2015 in the U.S., U.K.,
Germany, and Japan, which might ease the pressure on earnings. On the other hand, we see mixed trends in the growth of assets under management and new-business margins, depending on the region and product line.

Looking at non-life insurance, we see rate increases in selected product lines in several regions. In general, GMIs tend to be ahead in this segment, thanks to leading positions in several significant markets, but we cannot rule out setbacks.

Eight of the nine insurance groups the Financial Stability Board (FSB) has recently designated global systemically important insurers (G-SIIs) are GMIs we rate. The implications for G-SIIs are still unclear. But we believe that from 2019, potentially higher capitalization requirements and stricter supervision could influence our ratings on insurance groups classified as G-SIIs.

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Lifestyle funds are like travel insurance policies – customers often don’t read the small print until something goes wrong. Auto-enrolment means a new generation of pension savers, many of whom will automatically pile into lifestyle funds without actually knowing it. This means it’s more important than ever that these savers understand what they’re invested in and why it’s a good thing.

For many employees and employers in the UK, the introduction of automatic enrolment means having to step into the
uncharted territory of workplace pensions.
Because of this fundamental change to the pensions landscape, the government estimates up to 11 million workers will be automatically enrolled into a workplace pension. However, typical investor behaviour isn’t likely to change significantly, in the short term at least.

Employees may be expected to save towards a pension but the vast majority won’t participate actively after enrolment.
While everyone’s free to opt out of their workplace pension, 70-90%
of employees are likely to join their employer’s scheme, invest in the default fund and stay there.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) guidance about default funds highlights the importance of accommodating the needs of those who will be enrolled automatically. While no single strategy can suit all investors, the default option should be designed to deliver the best possible outcome for the majority of its members, recognising that many are unlikely to engage in financial decisions. And that’s exactly where lifestyle funds come in.

A common solution for scheme providers is to include a lifestyling component in their default fund. Lifestyle strategies generally assume that the investor will buy an annuity when they retire. They aim primarily to provide growth above inflation over the long term and to help reduce the impact of changes in annuity rates in the lead-up to retirement.

Usually such funds invest initially in growth assets then start a gradual switch to annuity-matching assets when the investor’s a predetermined number of years from their nominated retirement date. These changes to the fund’s asset allocation happen automatically so there’s no need for the investor to take any action.
While lifestyle funds are designed for those who want a ‘hands-off’ approach – that doesn’t mean they’re right for everyone.
That’s why it’s important that even those with limited interest understand what’s been chosen on their behalf.

Equities typically account for the bulk of the portfolio when the fund’s seeking to maximise returns during the growth stage – due to their potential for long-term growth. This is because while investors are still some way off from retirement, their portfolios potentially have time to recover from falls in value caused by major market upsets.

Of course, even if the dominance of equities for the growth stage is acceptable to professional investors, it may be totally unacceptable to many of your clients. And what constitutes long term these days seems to be stretching.

If you look at the 10- and even 15-year equity returns (as in the chart on the next page), global and UK equities are near the bottom of the pile. So it’s clear that, our view of when to disinvest from higher-risk assets should constantly be re-evaluated.

When the glidepath to retirement starts, a lifestyle fund’s emphasis shifts from growth to wealth preservation, by which we mean that it aims to preserve the size of annuity members can buy at retirement.
It seeks to do so by taking advantage of the inverse relationship between long-dated government bonds and annuity rates. This means that when one goes up, in normal circumstances the other will tend to go down. So when annuity rates fall, the value of a pension pot that’s invested in long gilts will tend to go up. Likewise, when the value of long gilts goes down, this can be an indicator that annuity rates may be higher.

The level of income the investor will get at retirement is less likely to change dramatically if the value of long gilts or annuity rates moves up or down just before they retire. This is why long gilts are still the asset class of choice for most
lifestyle strategies.

It’s worth noting that the relationship between long gilts and annuity rates isn’t perfect and can be affected by other factors, such as competitive pressures from annuity rate providers. Therefore, sometimes movements in long gilts won’t fully reflect movements in annuity rates. In addition, there’s typically a lag of a month or two between long gilt movements and annuity rate changes. And, of course, the strategy is only useful to investors who intend to buy an annuity when they retire.

Confidence in lifestyle strategies took a dive at the beginning of 2012 as gilt values, having rocketed in value in 2011, then fell sharply amid a period of uncharacteristically high volatility for the asset class. The overall return for long gilts in 2012 was a more modest 2.9%.
This caused consternation among those nearing retirement who had a considerable exposure to long gilts – and often considerably more than they had realised.

This is not suprising given their recent history. The volatile period that began in 2012 is easily explained given the sorry state of our own and other European economies, but this is an asset class that’s long been regarded as synonymous with the notion of financial security. The swings in performance have quite understandably alarmed some investors, particularly those close to retirement who thought they were investing in a low-risk asset class.

For more information about lifestyle funds www.aegon.co.uk/funds

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Moorhouse subsidiary Xbroker, the niche commercial underwriting specialist has appointed David Grimsey as Senior Fleet Underwriter.

David has over 30 years industry experience and previously held positions at RSA and QBE where he was responsible for underwriting complex and conventional motor fleet business including high turnover blue chip companies.

Following the success of Xbroker’s new motor fleet product, David has been appointed to help further expand the reach of the Xbroker Motor Fleet product. David’s main responsibility will be for the growth of the motor fleet business in the South and East of the UK.

Karl Railton, Head of Underwriting and Propositions at the Moorhouse Group said: “We are very pleased to welcome David to the Moorhouse Xbroker team. David has a significant market presence and strong relationships in the industry. He also has a track record of delivering a profit in the motor fleet arena, keen market insight and vast underwriting experience to ensure he plays a key role in developing our growing fleet business.”

David’s joining follows the recent extension of Xbroker’s panel of capacity providers to include Alpha Insurance A/S in collaboration with Swiss Re. His appointment and the new capacity allow Xbroker to continue to expand its range of innovative insurance solutions to brokers. A portfolio of more new products is currently being developed for launch later this year.

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With peak hurricane season around the corner, it’s time to pull out your homeowners insurance policy to check if you have a hurricane or windstorm deductible, and make sure you understand how it works in the event you have to file an insurance claim, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

“The time to understand how the claims process works is before you have a loss,” pointed out Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson at the I.I.I. “This includes having a clear understanding of the deductibles in your home or renters insurance policy—especially wind and hurricane deductibles.”

A deductible is basically the amount “deducted” from an insured loss when a claim is paid by the insurance company. A deductible can be either a dollar deductible or a percentage of the total amount of insurance on a policy.

While standard homeowners deductibles for fire, theft and other disasters listed in the policy are usually a dollar amount, such as $500 or $1,000, hurricane and wind deductibles are generally calculated as a percentage and typically vary from 1 to 5 percent of a home’s insured value. So, if a home is insured for $300,000 and the policy on the structure has a 5 percent deductible, the first $15,000 of a claim must be paid by the policyholder.

There are two kinds of wind damage deductibles: hurricane deductibles; which apply solely to damage from hurricanes; and windstorm deductibles which apply to any kind of wind damage.

Hurricane deductibles are triggered only when certain criteria are met (e.g., after the National Weather Service (NWS) has determined a Category 1 storm made landfall). The hurricane deductible triggers vary by state and insurer and usually apply when the NWS officially names a tropical storm, declares a hurricane watch or warning, or defines a hurricane’s intensity. Due to these differences, it is important to speak to your insurance professional to learn exactly how your particular hurricane deductible works.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have hurricane deductibles: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Hurricane and windstorm deductibles vary from state to state and from company to company, except in Florida where deductibles are set by state law.

Hurricane deductibles have made more private insurance coverage available in coastal states. A competitive market means more choice for consumers—with a variety of premiums, coverages and deductibles available you can shop around for the best insurance to fit your needs.

If you live on the coast, in some states you may have the option of paying a higher premium in return for a lower deductible depending on how close to the shore your residence is situated. In high-risk coastal areas, insurers often require the inclusion of a hurricane or wind deductible before selling a homeowners insurance policy.

“Everyone, no matter where they live, should make sure they understand what is and is not covered under their home insurance policy, as well as how their deductibles work” said Salvatore. “Homeowners who have questions about their insurance policy should contact their insurance professional while there is still time to purchase additional coverage or make other changes to the policy.”

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Swiss Re Corporate Solutions is set to expand it’s operations after receiving a licence from the Dubai Financial Services Authority to operate in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

The Dubai branch will initially focus on offering specialty risk solutions to corporate clients in the Energy, Power, Engineering, Construction and General Aviation (airports, airport-related services and business jets) industries in the Middle East.

Nikolaj Beck, Head of Specialties for Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, said, “We have long standing relationships throughout the Middle East and our Dubai branch will further strengthen our commitment.

“Our ambition is to significantly grow our book of business in the region and DIFC offers us the right platform to achieve this goal.”

The branch will also offer clients access to the entire range of Swiss Re Corporate Solutions’ products, making long-term capacity available in the region.

Abdulla Mohammed Al Awar, CEO of the DIFC Authority,added, “Swiss Re Corporate Solutions’ decision to operate from DIFC alongside other international companies, including four of the world’s top five insurance companies, is a further testament to the Centre’s position as the leading global centre in the region.

“Our world-class infrastructure and common-law jurisdiction provide a stable platform for insurance companies to access the region’s emerging markets and grow their business there.”

Scheduled to start operations immediately, the Swiss Re Corporate Solutions’ Dubai office will be headed by Raik Wittowski, a seasoned Swiss Re executive with more than 15 years of international experience in various positions involving underwriting of engineering and industrial risks across the Middle East, Asia and other regions.

“The Dubai office represents Swiss Re Corporate Solutions’ first local presence in the Middle East and North Africa region. Backed by the Swiss Re Group’s AA- rated insurance capacity, we will be equipped to locally underwrite specialty lines of business,” said Raik Wittowski. “DIFC not only provides a stable and efficient platform to reach out to the markets in the region, but is also expected to increase in importance as the main hub for Energy, Power and Engineering risks for the Middle East


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The Association of British Insurers (ABI) welcomed on Thursday the Governments announcement to extend the claims limit for settling personal injury motor claims from £10,000 to £25,000.

The association said the move will mean faster compensation pay-outs for an additional 55,000 people injured in road crashes a year. Around 97% of motor personal injury claimants will now be able to claim through the fast track process, they association added.

The fast track process was introduced in April 2010 and involves stringent time limits for insurers and legal representatives in establishing any liability, standardised claim forms and fixed legal costs.

The ABI also welcomed the Government’s intention to introduce a similar scheme for claims for workplace-related injuries and public liability claims.

Nick Starling, the ABI’s Director of General Insurance, said, “This is good news for thousands more claimants who will get their compensation much more quickly.
“In less than two years evidence shows that this process is leading to the average pay-out time being more than halved and lower legal costs.

“The Government must now press on with its wide-ranging and long overdue reforms to civil litigation to ensure that steps such as reducing fixed legal costs lead to a more cost efficient compensation system.”

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AA Insurance is the latest to turn to technology, with the launch of a new ‘pay how you drive’ policy. Called AA Drivesafe, it provides the tools to help drivers, especially new and inexperienced ones, improve their driving safety.

AA Drivesafe tracks driving behaviour using a small electronic ‘Drivesafe Box’. The data collected is then presented to users in a way that will help them improve their driving safety and, in so doing, can lead to lower insurance premiums.

Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance said, “It is likely to appeal to inexperienced drivers as well as parents, whose youngsters have their first car. Parents know driving behaviour is being tracked by a system that also provides crash, breakdown and theft alerts.”

While the product is currently only offered through three insurers, Mr Douglas says that more will be added, making AA Drivesafe more competitive.

AA Drivesafe is launched at a time when young drivers are expecting sharp rises in the cost of car cover as a result of a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that will outlaw use of gender to calculate insurance premiums after 20th December.

A number of other insurers have seen the opportunity to recently launch similar products.

“After this, I believe telematic insurance technology will come into its own,” Mr Douglas says. “And young and inexperienced drivers stand to benefit most.

“At present, young women can expect to pay up to 40 per cent less than their male peers for car insurance.  Although young men are statistically more likely to have a serious crash than women, that doesn’t mean that all men drive aggressively. Similarly, some young women also take risks when they’re behind the wheel.”

The product will include an online ‘dashboard’ where users log on to find out how they are performing under four separate categories:

 – Speed
– Anticipate traffic (smooth deceleration / braking)
– Follow landscape (cornering)
– Where and When (types of roads and time of day)

Another benefit of the product is that In the event of a breakdown or a crash, or if the car is stolen, the AA can also identify exactly where the car is.

Mr Douglas continued, “Although the initial premium may be little different to a conventional policy, the safest drivers could see their premiums fall quickly. As with standard polices, no-claim bonus applies and any premium reductions for risk-averse driving are in addition to that.

“A new driver with their first car could see premiums fall faster than the 30 per cent or so they might expect from their first year’s no-claim bonus alone, after a year.”

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Specialist lines underwriting agency CFC today announced the arrival of Kate Lyes as Senior Management Liability Underwriter in an effort to push expansion in the division.

While management liability has historically formed part of the modular policy which CFC offers, Ms Lyes has been appointed to lead the divisions expansion in the face of growing emerging risks.

Lyes’ most recent post was London Manager of Executive Protection at Chubb Insurance. She will be responsible for defininf CFC’s management liability strategy and underwriting approach whilst also creating a suite of tailored products for specific industry verticals.

Andrew Holmes, Underwriting Director at CFC, commented “Management liability policies are highly complex. It is critical that brokers work with a partner that will consult with clients to truly understand the individual nuances of their business and potential exposures.

“All of our policies are written with an in depth understanding of client needs and in order to achieve this we must employ the best people in the market.

“Kate is a true talent and her appointment highlights our commitment to developing our management liability offering.
“CFC is well known for its specialist approach and we will apply the same level of expertise to this area as we do with all our products.”

Kate Lyes added, “I am delighted to be joining the team at CFC. The increasing demand for innovation in the management liability arena presents a real opportunity for us to take a market leading position.

“I am thrilled by the prospect of working with true innovators in the underwriting market.”

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The XL Group has revealed their fourth quarter and full year results for 2011, reiterating the damage the increased natural catastrophe’s had on the industry last year.

The company saw steep net losses, particularly in the fourth quarter. They reported a net loss of USD516 million (£326m) for the fourth quarter alone, bring the yearly net loss to USD479 million (£302m).

As usual, natural catastrophe’s were to blame, but a non-cash goodwill impairment charge of USD429 million (£271m) in the fourth quarter also contributed.

Losses from natural catastrophe, net of reinsurance and reinstatement premiums came to USD195 (£123m) for the quarter and USD781 million (£493m) for the year.

Commenting of the performance, Chief Executive Officer Mike McGavick said “XL was clearly impacted in 2011, like companies throughout the property and casualty industry, by a year that suffered from one of the largest aggregate worldwide catastrophe losses in history, including, most recently, the devastating Thailand floods.

“While we believe XL’s catastrophe loss profile, relative to our peers, showed the effectiveness of our risk management process, we also again experienced an unacceptable level of non-catastrophe insurance losses in isolated underwriting areas.

“We have added new leaders and talented teams to these areas, and are sharply focused on delivering improved results. We will not shy away from our 2011 results, including a frustrating fourth quarter and full year 2011, and a significant non-cash charge to eliminate the Insurance segment’s goodwill reflecting continuing low valuations in our sector.

“But, we do want to ensure our results are viewed within the broader perspective of our goals and strategy.”

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Despite experiencing almost USD1 billion (£625m) in natural catastrophe losses Catlin managed to avoid the red in 2011, according to the company’s financial results released today.

The group reported less than a fifth of it’s before tax profit from the year before at USD71 million (£45m), down from USD406 (£256m) the year before.

This drop is understandable considering the USB961 million (£607m) natural catastrophe losses the company experienced.

The company also saw notable increases in premiums written, both in size and quantity.

“2011 was a tough year for the insurance industry and for Catlin due to the extraordinary series of natural catastrophes,” said Sir Graham Hearne, Chairman of Catlin Group Limited.

“However, Catlin performed well. Whilst the Group sustained nearly US$1 billion in gross losses from natural catastrophe claims, Catlin’s profit before tax amounted to US$71 million.

“Catlin has not only grown in size, but it has significantly increased value for its shareholders since its initial public offering, despite the tough economic conditions during much of that period.

“Since 31 March 2004, Catlin has produced total shareholder return amounting to 93 per cent, compared with average total shareholder return of 71 per cent for FTSE 350 companies during that same period.”

Stephen Catlin, CEO of the group, added, “I believe that Catlin today is in a strong position. We have a structure that is capable of substantial, profitable growth at a time when excellent opportunities are arising.”

The company also increased its dividend to 28 pence per share.

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As bitter temperatures continue to grip Europe and the UK Aviva warns homeowners to take a few simple steps to prevent freezing a bursting pipes drenching their homes.

Burst pipes are caused by the water inside the pipe expanding as it reaches freezing temperature. When it expands and there it no where to go the pipe can sometimes crack or burst.

One burst pipe in your house can mean water throughout the entire property, with the average cost of damage around £8,000.

For the homeowner this can mean months of disruption while their house is dried out and repaired. And if homes are left empty at holiday time, leaks often aren’t discovered for many days and so damage can get progressively worse.

Carole Gallagher, head of household claims, at Aviva said, “With the relatively mild start to the winter it’s easy to forget how quickly temperatures can plummet and many homeowners can be caught out by the arctic temperatures we are currently experiencing.

“Freezing and burst pipes can be a real problem – in some cases ruining entire floors of your home. The risk can be worse in traditional properties without modern heating systems or properly insulated pipes.

“And when homes are left empty, burst or leaking pipes often aren’t discovered for many days and so damage can get progressively worse so think about asking a friend or neighbour to pop in and check your home if you are escaping the cold for a half-term break in the sun.”

Aviva offered a number of tips for homeowners to minimise the risk of a burst:

 – If you can keep heating on a constant low temperature – especially if you are planning a weekend away. This means that water in pipes or tanks should never get cold enough to freeze and then burst

 – If you are going away for half-term get someone to check on your home, if a problem is spotted early the damage could be much less.

 – Make sure any loft hatches are open so that warm air from the rest of your house can circulate into the roof space

 – Know where your stop cock is – it is generally found underneath your kitchen sink. There should also be an access point for a stop cock outside your home (normally near your driveway)

 – Lots of lagging – one of the main causes of freezing pipes is a lack of lagging – so anyone attempting to do a bit of plumbing themselves, should bear in mind that pipes and tanks in the loft, or anywhere else liable to freeze, need to be properly lagged.

 – Insulate on top of pipes rather than underneath them, as insulation laid below the pipes will prevent rising heat reaching them.

 – Wrap up water tanks and cisterns in insulating jackets.

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Dutch banking and insurance group ING said effects from the European debt crisis were worsening, and that serious consequences could arise from a disorderly Greek default.

ING, which experienced lower than that expected returns in 2011, warned that the troubles in Europe were beggining to affect the ‘real’ economy more, demonstrated by the company’s 21 per cent rise in loan loss provisions in the fourth quarter of last year.

Rival banks Credit Suisse and KBC also reported lower than expected results because of tough market conditions.

ING Chief Executive Jan Hommen stressed the need to fix the situation as quickly as possible.

“No one knew what was happening when Lehman (Brothers) fell. Nobody really knows what the consequences will be and that’s why I think it’s so dangerous to not have a good solution for this,” Hommen told reporters.

“It can have consequences for contagion and consequences that may be much more than direct. The indirect consequences could really be significant. Maybe we are directly not that exposed any longer, but indirectly we could be,” Hommen said.

ING last month scrapped plans to list their insurance and investment operations citing an uncertain economic outlook and volatile financial markets, and instead chose to explore other options for its Asian operations

The group said loan loss provisions rose to 530 million euros in the fourth quarter from 437 million euros in the preceding period.

It also took a 199 million euro hit on Greek government bonds, writing them down to market value, representing a total loss of 80 percent compared to nominal value.

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Adding personal decorations to cars is putting Britons at risk as well as raising insurance prices, according to the latest research by Diamond Insurance.

The research revealed that the average UK motorist spends nearly £100 personalising their car with accessories such as seat covers, soft toys and window stickers.

The study worryingly found that 70 per cent of drivers with a rear window sticker found it obscured their view from the window.

57 per cent of Brits have accessorised their cars, with floor mats (35%), novelty air fresheners (15%) and humorous window stickers (14%) being the most popular. Only 4 per cent admitted to having fluffy dice hanging from their rear view mirror.

Diamond managing director, Sian Lewis said, “While only one in ten motorists have added expensive performance enhancing modifications to their car, five times more are choosing to decorate their vehicle with mats, stickers and even fluffy toys.

“When you think how much time we can spend in our cars each week, you can understand why so many of us want to make them more comfortable or individual, but car accessories should never impede the driver’s vision in any way. If you are going to adorn your rear window with stickers or soft toys, make sure they don’t obscure your view.”

The average amount of money motorists spend on personalising their car is £99, but some take it much further. 11% spend over £200 and one in a hundred have spent more than £1,000.

Lewis continued, “A car can say a lot about a person’s lifestyle and perhaps even more so if the driver has chosen to jazz it up. Some might choose simple things like a novelty tax disc holders or air fresheners, but others choose to spend a lot more with graphics, tints and wraps.

“If you do have some of the more expensive accessories, it’s always worth checking with your insurer to see if they’ll make a difference to your premium.”

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The Work Risk Review has released their latest Counrty Risk Report, this time focusing on Nigeria.

The report outlines a number of risks affecting the area, including a bungling of the country’s oil subsidy policy and increased terrorism, which “undermine the countries potential for inward investment.”

With the recent attacks that left 200 dead in Kano coming swiftly on the back of civil strikes at the removal of oil subsidies, World Risk Review raised Nigeria’s ratings against Strikes, Riots & Civil Commotion, and Terrorism.

Against the backdrop of an already weak financial infrastructure and spiralling Islamic insurgency, investors, says the report, should be aware of the political implications of further public backlash at the government’s lack of action on economic reform and institutional corruption.

Elizabeth Stephens, Head of Credit and Political Risk Analysis for JLT, said that a key concern is President Goodluck Jonathan’s ability and commitment to achieving control over the escalating tensions.

The withdrawal of an oil subsidy, which effectively doubled the price of petrol, led to politically and economically debilitating protests in early January. Though Jonathan has taken steps over recent weeks to reinstate a degree of control, including the partial reinstatement of the subsidy, the sacking of his head of police and an investigation into corruption within the oil sector, the full extent and real impact of his apparent determination remains to be seen.

Stephens said, “Whether Jonathan has the ability and will to harness the pro-reform momentum generated by the recent protests to implement the desired changes is uncertain. It is too early to tell whether initiatives aimed at tackling corruption reflect a genuine government commitment to tackling vested interests and revitalising the oil sector, or if they’re merely a device to ease current pressure.

“But if history’s a guide to the present, the prospects for reform are grim. Jonathan lacks a broad base of political support and the rising tide of terrorism from Boko Haram and other fundamentalist organisations will undermine his ability to position himself as the legitimate leader of the country.”

Support from an already disenfranchised and mobilised population will be difficult to achieve, she concluded, and there’s a chance that unless the planned reforms provide tangible benefits quickly, Jonathan may find himself swept away on a tide of civil unrest.

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Lloyd’s syndicate Travelers has announced the release of it’s Lloyd’s event cancellation cover by offering it to regional brokers.

The product, which is uniquely calculated to each individual case, is designed for businesses staging events such as annual general meetings, conferences, trade shows and corporate entertainment.

The cover was developed after the syndicate saw increasing demand for their product from around the country.

Alex Clegg, Product Manager, Media & Entertainment at Travelers commented, “Although this cover has been available through our syndicate for a couple of years now, we have seen a growing demand from non-Lloyd’s brokers and regional brokers,”

“By launching a bespoke version of our product through our insurance company operation, we are making our products more accessible for these brokers and moving forward the company’s goal of offering a broader range of products to our broker partners and customers.”

Travelers began writing event cancellation cover through its Lloyd’s syndicate in 2009. The maximum limit for this product will be £2.5 million per event.

The company is considering covering terrorism, communicable disease, national mourning, enforced reduced attendance and other extensions for these risks – and said it already has a number of brokers lined up for the product.

Source – Lloyd’s

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Spanish based insurer Mapfre has released their impressive 2011 financial results.

The insurer saw net profits increase by 3.2 per cent last year to €963 million (£808m). In the same period the companies premiums surged by 15.5 per cent to €19.6 million (£16m), outdoing peers in almost every market the company operates in.

Other notable figures released by the company include the importance of their international business, which contributes to 60 per cent of the groups revenues and 45 per cent of the groups results.

2011 also saw equity rise by a quarter (24.8%) for the group. These strong results mean the company will pay out 2.7 per cent more in dividends this year at €456.5 million (£382m).

The company said that “significant growth in Life Assurance and Home lines and a performance considerably above the market average in Motor Insurance, as well as excellent development of the international business,” contributed to revenues increasing by 15 per cent.

A restructure of the company has been undertaken to keep these results coming. The new structure involves a significant simplification with respect to the previous model, while boosting its sales activity, which is fully focused on clients, as the main driver of the Group’s performance.

Maphre had a presence in over 46 countries at the end of 2011 and has one of the largest distribution networks in Spain and Latin America.