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Spanish reinsurer rating updates highlight sovereign rating impact and differences between S&P and AM Best

As S&P continues to roll out ratings reflecting its new insurance criteria, those of Spanish reinsurers Nacional Re and Mapfre Re give a specific illustration of the impact of the sovereign rating.

Many market participants have viewed the two reinsurers as fundamentally ‘A’ range security prior to the application of the sovereign impact and the new S&P release reinforces this.

Nacional Re has a final financial strength rating of ‘BBB- ‘ with a negative outlook. But its ‘rating anchor*’ is disclosed as being ‘a-‘; the three notch reduction from the anchor being explicitly driven by the sovereign rating (along with the negative outlook).

Mapfre Re (rated as a core subsidiary of the Mapfre group) has a rating anchor of ‘a’ but a final financial strength rating of ‘BBB+’ with a negative outlook. The two-notch reduction (as opposed to the three applied to Nacional Re) reflects the degree of the Mapfre group’s non-Spanish global exposure.

What is particularly telling about these ratings is that the rating anchors should already include most of the impact of the companies’ credit risk exposure to Spanish sovereign and other debt as well as their exposure to the systemic risk drivers within the Spanish insurance market.

The ratings anchor is made up by combining the ‘Financial Risk Profile’ of the reinsurer with its ‘Business Risk Profile’.  The former includes Capital Adequacy and Risk Position, therefore covering investment risk, while the latter includes the IICRA**.  Therefore In both cases S&P appears to be adding a very material extra degree of sovereign impact. This would include the concentration risk the reinsurers have with Spanish government bonds but, nonetheless, it’s a severe outcome relative to the rating anchors.

By contrast, AM Best’s rating on Nacional Re is A- (stable outlook), the same as the S&P rating anchor but with a stable rather than negative outlook and for Mapfre Re it is A (negative outlook) exactly the same as the S&P rating anchor***.

Given that Best also has country risk and sovereign debt exposure explicitly addressed within its ratings this represents one of the largest differences of rating opinion that we are aware of between the two agencies.

Stuart Shipperlee, Analytical MD, Litmus Analysis

Technical notes

*The ‘ratings anchor’ is the initial outcome of S&P’s rating review of a re/insurer. It addresses the core elements of financial and business risk analysis but is prior to S&P’s review of the key qualitative aspects of the re/insurer’s management profile; namely the quality of management, governance and its ERM.  These may modify the rating anchor outcome positively or negatively. S&P then may apply a ‘cap’ to the rating based on concerns around either liquidity or sovereign risk. Finally the rating may be adjusted due to group or government support.

**An IICRA (Insurance Industry and Country Risk Assessment) addresses the risks typically faced by insurers operating in specific industries and countries. It covers macro issues from the degree of economic and political risk to the payment culture and rule of law to more micro factors such as barriers to entry.

*** AM Best maps its ‘A’ grade financial strength rating to the level of ‘A+’ or ‘A’ on the capital markets scale used by S&P. However the Issuer Credit Rating (ICR) it also issues on Mapfre confirms that the mapping in this case is to the ‘A’ level.

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