Switzerland: Underwriting the Underwriters

A lot of insurance companies would like to forget the past year. The Watts riots cost them $44 million in damage claims. Windstorms in Belgium, fires in the Philippines and a rash of burglaries in Switzerland drained additional huge sums. Then there was Hurricane Betsy, which did an estimated $750 million worth of damage, bringing on the worst single losses in insurance history.

Zurich's Swiss Reinsurance Co. has more reason than most to rue the vintage year of disaster. It is the world's biggest reinsurance company. "Swiss Re," as its name suggests, insures the insurance companies—more than 1,000 of them...

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