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Thursday, March 17, 2011

ONGC is the holder of the biggest insurance policy in India.

ONGC India is expected to face a 'hard' market when it approaches international underwriters next week to renew its $28.5 billion insurance policy. ONGC is the holder of the biggest insurance policy in India. On the other hand, Reliance Industries-the largest private sector insurance policy holder-has managed to get its policy renewed without any significant hike in rates since its contract fell due more than a fortnight before the deadly earthquake struck Japan.

Last year, ONGC was fortunate as its policy was renewed weeks before BP Deepwater Horizon explosion, which caused a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico pushing up rates for offshore rigs worldwide. For 2010-11, ONGC managed to insure its offshore assets which were worth well over $26.5 billion for $30 million. The policy was renewed because of support provided by international reinsurers. This year the state-owned company has shortlisted United India Insurance, which has appointed top international broking firms, including Aon, Marsh and JWT, to help it secure cover from international reinsurers. Reliance Industries has had its policy renewed by New India and ICICI Lombard.

Other Indian companies which have their policies due for renewal in April are finding that they may have to wait for a while. "Most reinsurers have put on hold quoting for risks until they have a better assessment of their own exposure to the loss," said Gaurav Garg, MD, Tata AIG General Insurance. "However, there is a possibility that India might still emerge as an attractive market to Cat (catastrophe) reinsurers as compared to some other markets," said Garg. This was because there have not been many major disasters in recent years and also the fact that whenever there have been disasters, insurance losses have not been very high because of the low level of insurance penetration.

For insurance buyers, the earthquake will only compound their woes. End-March insurance companies were hit by a Rs 3,500 crore provisioning required to be made on their motor-third party insurance portfolio. This provisioning will erase profits and reduce the capacity of insurance companies to provide cover. Now with reinsurers increasing the pressure from the other end, insurers will be forced to increase prices wherever possible. Japanese reinsures like Sumitomo have emerged major underwriters in the international market in recent times. It is not clear whether the capacity of these Japanese underwriters will take a hit in light of domestic losses.

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