Friday, November 2, 2012

Catastrophe bonds, QE, and you

Following up on my favorite topic (the Fed), and making a connection with this week's biggest news (Hurricane Sandy), we have this piece from last week from Businessweek.
Bonds designed to protect insurers from payouts on natural disasters are headed for the best returns since 2009 as a superstorm expected to develop from Hurricane Sandy threatens to strike the U.S. Northeast. 
Catastrophe bonds, which lose money if they’re triggered, have returned 10.3 percent this year through last week, more than triple the 2.79 percent gains in the corresponding period of 2011, according to the Swiss Re Cat Bond Total Return Index. The measure, which tracks dollar-denominated debt sold by insurers and reinsurers, includes bonds linked to potential storm damage in the U.S. 
Investor demand for the securities has grown with yields on speculative-grade corporate bonds hovering at record lows as the Federal Reserve holds down interest rates to boost the economy. About $1 billion of catastrophe bonds may be exposed to the storm, according to a “loose” estimate by Patti Guatteri of Swiss Re Capital Markets. 
“Some investors are looking for bids on specific bonds that are the most exposed to the Northeast,” Guatteri, director of insurance-linked security trading in New York, said today in a telephone interview.
Yeah, toss this one in the old "unintended consequences of QE" pile. People can't get investment yield from traditional securities, but they feel the need to do something to keep up with inflation, so they start scrambling around looking for yield wherever they can find it.

So it is that we end up with individual investors starting to play around in the catastrophe insurance business, taking on risk that even the large insurance companies don't want. As a result, the price of these things skyrockets (and the yield goes down), even as the exact opposite should be happening with Sandy bearing down on the East Coast.

This is (was) nothing but outright gambling by a bunch of desperate investors who can't see any other way of keeping up with Fed-sponsored inflation. All of this is absolutely fantastic, what could possibly go wrong? Seriously, taking all of your money to Vegas and betting on black would be a better bet than this. The investors who thought this was a good idea deserve whatever they get as a result (i.e., no bailouts), no matter how much they may have thought the Fed "forced them" to do it. Dumb investing is dumb investing.


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