Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer by premiums, reported its latest quarterly results today, covering “the most loss-afflicted [quarter] in reinsurance history in terms of natural catastrophes,” according to chairman Nikolaus von Bomhard. The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, in addition to another earthquake in New Zealand and widespread flooding in Australia, saddled Munich Re with €2.7bn in costs in the first quarter.

The impact of recent natural disasters on reinsurers is vividly illustrated by key players’ combined ratios—the ratio of losses and expenses to earned premiums. Munich Re reported a combined ratio of 159% in the first quarter, up from 96% in the previous quarter. Second-ranked reinsurer Swiss Re reported a similarly dire combined ratio of 164% in the first quarter.

Financially speaking, there is a silver lining to the recent losses: upward pressure on premium prices. Munich Re saw price increases of up to 50% on certain earthquake policies for April renewals, and predicts a “hardening effect” on a broader range of business lines during the July renewals. For its part, Swiss Re saw “strong” price increases in Japan and a “flattening” in prices in the US and Europe following decreases in January. With a series of severe tornadoes striking the US South and Midwest in April, and the Atlantic hurricane season approaching, further catastrophe losses could bring about a decisive turn in the pricing cycle sooner rather than later.

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