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14 Oct 1998
MOODY'S ASSIGNS NINE FIRST-TIME RATINGS TO JAPANESE PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURERS; CONSIDERS FIANCIAL STRENGTH GOOD
Tokyo, October 14, 1998 -- Moody's Investors Service assigned insurance financial strength ratings to nine previously un-rated Japanese property & casualty insurance and reinsurance companies. The ratings range from Aa2 (excellent) for Nichido Fire & Marine Insurance Company, Ltd. to Ba1 (questionable) for Fuji Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Ltd. Prior to this release, the rating agency revised ratings for the four Japanese P&C insurers it currently rates (See list below). Moody's insurance financial strength ratings represent an assessment of the ability of insurance companies to repay senior policyholder claims and obligations.
New rating assignments are as follows:
Nichido Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Ltd. Aa2 (Excellent)
Nippon Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Ltd. A1 (Good)
Toa Fire & Marine Reinsurance Co., Ltd. A1 (Good)
Dai-Tokyo Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Ltd. A2 (Good)
Chiyoda Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Ltd. A2 (Good)
Dowa Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Ltd. A2 (Good)
Nissan Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Ltd. A2 (Good)
Koa Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Ltd. A3 (Good)
Fuji Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Ltd. Ba1 (Questionable)
Ratings revised on August 21 are:
Tokio Marine & Fire Insurance Co., Ltd. Aa1 (Excellent)
Sumitomo Marine & Fire Insurance Co., Ltd. Aa2 (Excellent)
Mitsui Marine & Fire Insurance Co., Ltd. Aa2 (Excellent)
Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Ltd. Aa2 (Excellent)
Discussing the rationale for its ratings assignments, Moody's noted that, the Japanese P&C industry has many basic strengths, including strong capitalization and - despite market reform - still-effective barriers to entry and competition. However, the industry is also facing two challenges of great magnitude at the same time: a recession and industry deregulation. These conditions are expected to elevate the importance of both underwriting performance and expense control to much higher levels than in the past. This situation serves to mitigate some the industry's core strengths, since neither underwriting nor expense control is a characteristic that the Japanese P&C firms have been driven to fully develop, given the market's long history of regulatory protection. Moreover, the industry's managers have very little experience in dealing with the kind of stressful economic conditions that prevail in Japan today. This has profound implications for the industry's growth prospects and its finances.
According to the rating agency, the Japanese property and casualty insurance industry's basic strengths should sustain most of its domestic participants throughout the initial stages of price competition. These strengths include broad name recognition and market share; control of the main distribution channels; a large capital base in relation to the type, volume and risk-content of business written; and a comparatively clean investment portfolio.
Nonetheless, Moody's believes that the lack of competitive pressures, the presence of undemanding stakeholders - from shareholders to policyholders - and even the Japanese social contract have created and preserved inefficiencies that have essentially doubled the operating costs of non-life insurers.
The industry has two core businesses and both are under unusual pressure. The indemnity product faces recession, rate deregulation and competition from lower-cost, underwriting-focused newcomers. The savings-type product, exposed in recent years to the risk of spread deficiency, faces further pressure as domestic interest rates are lowered to spur economic growth.
Moody's believes that the industry is still fundamentally unprepared to open its market to full-scale competition. Moreover, with the powers of inertia, tied distribution, and common strategy behind them, the leading companies which write most of the business may succeed in forestalling the impact of deregulation for some time. Some official measures will also be used to delay and absorb the shock. Having two options: 1) to fully open the market and face losses and instability, or 2) to continue with a closed market, the Japanese have adopted the middle road, analysts at the rating agency observed.
In the recently-published in-depth Japanese Property & Casualty Insurance Industry Outlook, available in October 1998, Moody's insurance analysts discuss changing conditions within the industry and management responses, including the rating agency's perception of impediments to true reform. This industry outlook also contains a detailed business review of the major products, coverages, distribution channels, and financial fundamentals of the Japanese property and casualty insurers.
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