While marketers are renewing their gym memberships and taking to the tow paths in a desperate bid to shed some seasonal pounds, Lloyd's itself has never looked in better shape with robust rates and a healthy intake of new capacity.

It is rather stating the obvious to say that success at Lloyd's depends on whether the wind blows or if the ground shakes. But this inescapable fact will help define whether the underwriting prosperity of last year continues into 2007.

An industry commentator recently asked whether the reinsurance industry could ever achieve a happy medium; after all, a brutal catastrophe season creates huge losses, and a benign hurricane season creates additional pressure of its own.

Last year the insurance industry bore losses of $15bn compared to catastrophic losses of $80bn in 2005.

Clients now appear to be demanding more favourable rates on the back of well-publicised results, and particularly after having paid increased renewals in 2006 to cover the cost of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Consequently, some industry figures are warning that clients could decide to buy less reinsurance cover in 2007 if prices continue to rise.

Charlie Cantlay, deputy chairman of Aon Reinsurance, says: "All of the angst in this renewal season has been in the negotiation process because of a mismatch between the buyer and seller. With a benign hurricane season the buyer can see that money has been made in 2006 and with high costs being paid at the last renewal they are saying, 'we are not paying it again'."

Following the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, and in spite of the relatively light hurricane activity in 2006, rates for US property catastrophe reinsurance business remain high.

As a result, appetite appears to still be strong as the industry witnesses a positive grow back in capacity for US wind exposures.

Cantlay says: "You could say that [capital markets] have made the money they're going to make in 2006, played the bet and got fantastic results, and so are going to walk away. But on the other hand they have got the hang of the game now and may decide to roll the dice once more for 2007."

It seems that private investors at Lloyd's are also throwing caution to the wind and backing syndicates that write peak perils.

On the back of attracting new underwriting capacity to Lloyd's for 2007, Hampden, the largest members' agent at Lloyd's, says private investors have provided nearly £43m in premium income capacity in just three weeks for a new Lloyd's syndicate.

MAP, the managing agent of Syndicate 2791, raised the capacity for a new syndicate, which was established specifically to take advantage of the rates in the US property catastrophe reinsurance market.

What has impressed the market is the fact that the money was raised so quickly despite the high risk-based capital requirements of the new syndicate.

Nigel Hanbury, chief executive of Hampden, says: "This shows how quickly and effectively private investors can react to a managing agent's request for fresh capital and also how cost effectively private capital can be deployed within Lloyd's."

Hanbury hopes this rapid capacity raising venture will also signal further prosperity for Lloyd's.

"The market is in good shape and Lloyd's is in good shape with the Equitas deal having gone through," he adds. "It is also looking at an upward pressure on its rating, so things are conspiring to look good for Lloyd's."

But it is not just corporate capital that is filling the boots of catastrophe exposed syndicates. ALM chief executive Anthony Young recently admitted that after a 10-year gap he has rejoined Lloyd's for the 2007 account.

Young expects a long-term return on capacity of 5% per annum, on top of dividends and further capital gains accrued on the syndicate capacity.

"No wonder influential City figures such as Jonathan Marland, Crispin Odey and Michael Spencer are joining the party for 2007," he added. IT