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Insurers can expect 'modest impact' from Hermine

Losses approaching $500 million, economic damage around $1 billion

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla.

It could take a couple of weeks before a picture of the financial impact from Hurricane Hermine is available.

But Fitch Ratings, one of the nation's credit-rating giants, anticipates a "modest impact" on the property-casualty insurance industry and on catastrophe bond markets.

Analysts predict the storm, which hit Northwest Florida last Friday, will result in losses approaching $500 million, with economic damage around $1 billion.

But those numbers include Georgia, the Carolinas and other states along the East Coast that felt the impact from the storm.

The bigger hit from the storm may be on third-quarter earnings for insurers, particularly many new firms that have sprung up in Florida since the punishing 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons.

"The limited history for most new primary companies means that their balance sheets and operating infrastructures are untested by any large loss experience," Fitch Ratings said in a release Wednesday. "Also, the ability for these companies to quickly and effectively assess and pay losses during a substantial increase in claims from a large hurricane landfall is uncertain. Loss experience from Hermine will provide insight into the preparedness of the Florida specialist companies for the next significant storm that hits the state."

Don Griffin, vice president of personal lines for Property Casualty Insurers Association of America said Tuesday it could be two weeks to a month before any initial damage number is released.