Faltering California took another economic hit on Friday, as America’s largest personal lines insurer said it would immediately stop selling new home insurance policies in the state. California is the largest property and casualty insurance market in the country.
State Farm attributed the decision to three factors: “historic increases in construction costs outpacing inflation, rapidly growing catastrophe exposure, and a challenging reinsurance market.” Reinsurance is a method of transferring some of an insurer’s risk to other insurers.
Existing policies will stay in effect — for now. There’s always the possibility that, if things keep deteriorating, State Farm could decide to “non-renew” current policy-holders. That’s what AIG did last year, sending thousands of high-end homeowners scrambling to find new coverage.
The announcement’s timing — on a Friday afternoon heading into a long holiday weekend — seemed intended to minimize publicity. In statement, State Farm said it “will cease accepting new applications including all business and personal lines property and casualty insurance, effective May 27, 2023. This decision does not impact personal auto insurance.” The halt seems to include renters insurance, though the announcement wasn’t explicit on that count.
Inflation has been taking a harsh toll on insurers, who are pressing regulators to approve rate hikes to compensate for rising claim costs. Earlier this month, for example, San Antonio-based USAA posted the first ever annual loss in its 100-year history — a $1.3 billion setback.
In California, insurers have also been contending with high wildfire risks, and many have curtailed coverage in wildfire-prone regions, or clamped down on homes that lack certain fire-thwarting characteristics, which range from building materials to clearing space between the structure and surrounding trees.
State Farm diplomatically acknowledged the California government’s efforts to make the state a viable place for property insurers to operate in, but implied their efforts to date have been insufficient:
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