The week's winners

The week's winners

  • Amlin up 14.5%
  • Cox up 9.4%
  • Hiscox up 6.7%

    The week's losers

  • SVB down 9.3%
  • Zurich Financial Services down 4%

    Enron's difficulties saddled insurance shares with an extra burden this week.

    The US energy trader filed for the largest Chapter 11 bankruptcy in history on 2 December.

    The move gives it temporary protection from creditors similar to a UK company going into administration.

    At the same time Enron launched a $10bn (£7bn) lawsuit against rival Dygeny Inc after it retreated from a rescue merger.

    The overall effect was to make hundreds of millions of pounds of bonds virtually worthless and send a shiver through stock markets on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Banks were the first to feel the chill, but it is beginning to look as though the Enron virus could spread across other sectors.

    Insurers could suffer both directly and indirectly from Enron's failure and shares in some of the UK's biggest general insurers started the week with a fall.

    Abbey National said up to £95m of the £115m in Enron bonds it held could be worthless.

    Chubb admitted it had $220m (£154m) of exposure through bonds and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which owns Direct Line, was reported to have exposure of about £600m.

    Barclays has a claim with the Houston-based company's subsidiary, Enron North America Corporation, of $126.1m, (£89m), according to figures posted on Enron's website.

    Ratings agency Standard & Poor's estimated a total exposure to Enron-related derivatives at $6.3bn (£4.4bn).

    In addition, insurers are already seeing their share prices pulled down under the weight of sagging markets.

    Seen by investors as having huge stakes in equities, insurers have been hit particularly hard by generally sluggish trading conditions.

    By mid-morning on 3 December, the day after Enron filed for bankruptcy, Royal & SunAlliance (R&SA), CGNU and the Royal Bank of Scotland were all down.

    R&SA was performing worst, falling by 3%.

    Insurance analyst Chris Rathbone of Williams de Broe was not surprised that three of the UK's general insurers were suffering.

    He said: "You have to take into account that insurers on both sides, general and life, are big investors in the stock market. So if the market moves down, their stock is likely to follow. Overall, insurers shouldn't be exposed any more than any other sector.

    "Unless there are residual insurance contracts that might be existing with Enron, the biggest effect is if they have a valuable investment in it."

    The other story of the week came from Germany.

    Reinsurance giant Munich Re's financial results for the first nine months of the year affirmed its estimated losses from 11 September and predicted sunnier days ahead.

    The company's stock price has risen by about 25% since the atrocities, but analysts predicted more good fortune.

    Insurance analyst Espen Nordhus of Morgan Stanley said: "Two significant things have happened. Firstly, there was no further increase in the estimate of the World Trade Centre loss. The market was nervous about that. Secondly, it's a very bullish statement about next year's outlook."

    He said Munich Re and fellow reinsurers Swiss Re and Berkshire Hathaway were all well placed to take advantage of rising rates.