The scale of the human trauma as a result of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11th is terrible. By comparison, the economic costs of the disaster are modest. Still, estimates of the financial toll of the catastrophe are beginning to emerge.

Disaster modelling firm AIR Worldwide predicts that insured property losses will range between US$15bn and US$35bn. Any result in this range will dwarf the insured losses that stemmed from the last large quake in Japan, the 1995 Kobe temblor that cost the insurance industry US$3.5bn, according to Swiss Re.

Japan’s insurance industry is dominated by domestic firms, so they will take a large share of the losses—up to US$7.2bn, according to Moody’s. Shares of Japanese insurers plunged today, the first full trading session since the quake. Many commercial risks, however, are passed on to international reinsurers, who also face daunting costs. Following the series of natural disasters in Australia and New Zealand in recent months, the talk is now of a potential end to the long-running soft market. To the extent that a silver lining can be found amidst the tragedy, this could be positive for brokers.

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