Northeastern Snowstorm Weighs on Insurers

The U.S. insurance industry, already bruised by one of the most devastating weather years in history, appears to have suffered another blow from Saturday's unprecedented northeastern snowstorm.

Early data from some of the country's largest insurers suggests the hit was not as severe as it could have been -- because it came on a weekend.

At least eight people died in the storm and, as of Monday morning, some 2.2 million customers were still without power. More than 300 roads were partially or completely closed in Connecticut alone and many train lines into New York City were under prolonged suspensions.

Depending on how the damage shakes out, the storm could be at least the 11th billion-dollar economic disaster in the United States this year, a record. The first 10 disasters alone caused more than $45 billion in economic damage, the U.S. government has said.

``It's going to be pretty focused and really just impacting homeowners' insurers,'' said Matt Carletti, an analyst for JMP Securities. Carletti said the latest event would feed into the trend that has helped some insurers raise prices in recent months after years of weakness.

A spokesman for Chubb Corp, one of the biggest property insurers in the northeastern United States, said Sunday it was clear there would be some tree-related damage, though comparisons to Hurricane Irene might be premature.

New York City reported five times as many downed trees in Central Park from the snowstorm as there were from Irene, which hit in August. As opposed to Irene, though, flood damage was not an issue.

Home and auto insurers like Chubb and industry leader State Farm are especially vulnerable to claims from trees hitting homes and cars, particularly in such a widespread storm.

A spokesman for State Farm said Sunday the storm had not yet been declared a ``catastrophe,'' adding that because it was the weekend and people generally stayed at home, there were likely to be fewer claims.

Nationwide Mutual , also one of the largest insurers in the region, said Monday it has received about 500 claims so far, though it is too soon to tell if those numbers will rise as people start to regain their electricity.

``The numbers are not real high at this point,'' a spokesman said. (Reporting by Ben Berkowitz; editing by Gunna Dickson)