Friday, February 16, 2007

State Farm retreats in Gulf

State Farm retreats in Gulf; won't offer new policies in Mississippi. State Farm's decision Wednesday to stop writing new home and commercial policies throughout Mississippi could prompt other insurers to retreat further from the Katrina-battered region, industry groups and legal experts say. State Farm — which insures about one of every three Mississippi homes — is the first company since Hurricane Katrina to stop offering new policies throughout a state in the Gulf Coast area. Its move underscores the precarious nature of the region's insurance. Since the hurricane, insurers have cut back on homeowner policies in affected coastal areas. The decision Wednesday is one State Farm came to "reluctantly," says company spokesman Phil Supple, partly because of the torrent of lawsuits and rulings in Mississippi since Katrina and the uncertainty of pending legal battles. The move doesn't affect existing policyholders, at least for now.

This morning there was a story on CNN where some talkinghead was making a big stink about how this was unfair. I don't understand.

Here's how I see the matter. State Farm obviously is in the insurance business to make money; surely nobody expects them to write unprofitable business. Insurance in hurricane-prone areas is unprofitable, prompting State Farm to pull out. One's first thought might be that rather than pull out State Farm could instead try to make the business profitable by raising prices (although that might prompt the talkingheads to call *that* unfair).

So why doesn't State Farm raise prices? Because the market won't bear it. Essentially the economics of the matter are that homeowners in hurricane areas want the perks of living by the water, etc., without collectively assuming financial responsibility for the casualty losses that accompany this decision. Clearly homeowners in areas not subject to hurricanes are not going to accept higher premiums which would essentially subsidize those living in hurricane areas. Hence, the only economically viable decision is to pull out. Eventually, the supply of insurance dries up and prices will go up. Economics 101. Why are CNN and other news sources are acting like something horrible is going on here?

No comments: