The U.S. property and casualty industry incurred $38.6 billion of pre-tax catastrophe losses through the first nine months of 2011, nearly doubling the full-year total of $19.6 billion for all of 2010, according to a new briefing from rating agency A.M. Best Co.

The period notably featured the Northeast strike of Hurricane Irene, likely to go down as one of the costliest storms in history. Catastrophe modeler Risk Management Solutions Inc. estimates the 2011 hurricane season, which ended Nov. 30, produced roughly $5 billion in insured losses.

But according to Best, the vast majority of U.S. losses were associated with Midwest and Southeast tornadoes and hailstorms, notably the devastating storms in Tuscaloosa, Ala. and Joplin, Mo.

Missouri Insurance Director John Huff was recently named receiver of three small insurers – Barton Mutual Insurance Co., Gateway Mutual Insurance Co. and Cape Mutual Insurance Co. – left insolvent as a result of the Joplin tornado. The three county mutuals, collectively known as the Barton Group, had a combined 41,000 policyholders and 2010 premiums of nearly $29 million, but suffered $48 million of claims from the tornado.

As part of the receivership, Missouri Farm Bureau Services Inc. is agreeing to manage future operations for the group, including investing $14 million in surplus notes that will have the backing of the Missouri Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association.

Nonetheless, Best said in its briefing that, despite the heavier than usual catastrophe load on the U.S. industry, it believes solvency issues are likely to be isolated:

While the impact from natural catastrophes during the first nine months of the year is material to the industry from an earnings perspective, A.M. Best believes the overall industry’s capital will effectively absorb these catastrophe-related losses.

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