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Lloyd's of London insurers eye $375 million Sandy hit

By Myles Neligan

LONDON (Reuters) - Three of the Lloyd's of London insurance market's leading players owned up to a combined loss of about $375 million from superstorm Sandy and warned the final bill could change.

Bermuda-based insurer Catlin , operator of Lloyd's biggest syndicate, is set to absorb about $200 million in claims from Sandy, it said on Tuesday. Rivals Hiscox and Novae put their exposure at 90 million pounds ($145.79 million) and between $25 million and $30 million respectively.

Sandy, a 1,000-mile wide storm that killed 132 as it swept through the north-eastern United States on October 29, is expected to cost insurers up to $25 billion, making it the second-costliest storm after hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Insurers and analysts have said the size of the affected region, which includes New York and other densely populated and industrialized areas, makes the final damage bill difficult to calculate.

"This estimate is subject to a considerable degree of uncertainty due to the size of the storm system, and the wide variety of damage it caused," Catlin said.

Sandy came at the end of a relatively uneventful year for natural catastrophes, in contrast with 2011, the insurance industry's second-costliest on record after earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand generated a claims bill of over $100 billion.

The comparative absence of big disaster claims during the first nine months of 2012 means the insurance industry is still expected to turn a profit for the year as a whole.

"We expect Sandy will have turned what would have been a very benign catastrophe year and a very strong earnings year back into a relatively average one," Joy Ferneyhough, an analyst at Espirito Santo bank in London, wrote in a note.

Catlin shares were down 3 percent by 4:45 a.m. ET against a 0.3 percent rise in the mid-cap FTSE 250 <.FTMC> share index, partly surrendering a 21 percent gain since the start of the year. Hiscox and Novae were 0.8 percent lower and 1.9 percent higher respectively.

Top U.S. insurers AIG and Allstate have estimated their Sandy losses at $1.3 billion and $1 billion respectively, while Swiss Re , the world's No.2 reinsurer, has said it expects to pay out $900 million.

The Lloyd's of London market, a collection of about 80 competing insurance syndicates that sell protection against natural catastrophe and other risks worldwide, has not yet said how much Sandy will cost it collectively.

Lloyd's which traces its origins back 324 years to a London coffee house where merchants met to insure ships, has historically borne about 10 percent of the claims burden from major natural disasters, analysts say.

Lloyd's insurer Beazley expects to take a $90 million hit from Sandy, it said on Friday.

(Reporting by Myles Neligan; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters and Helen Massy-Beresford)

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