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Ajit Jain Feeds Buffett's Hunger

October 28, 2013 | About:

People are starting to worry about him.

The changes in diet. The idiosyncratic decisions. The silence. He isn't quite the man he used to be, isn't quite himself. Everyone is talking about it: speculating about his motives, glossing his actions, promulgating theories, kvetching about its implications.

Which is to say that Ajit Jain, the softly spoken, smiling carnivore par excellence of the reinsurance world has of late taken up omnivorous habits. Where Jain was previously notorious for holding aloof until he scented blood, then attacking ferociously and making off with hefty chunks of red meat in his mouth, the last two years have seen him extend his diet in surprisingly catholic ways.

These days, Jain has started eating things that he used to turn his nose up at. He isn't quite willing to shovel anything down that comes his way, but if it is presented by his chef of choice (Aon) then he's almost sure to open wide.

No Jain Manifesto or Treatise has been issued to explain his changing ways. In fact, the Berkshire Hathaway man has kept resolutely schtum about the change of direction, greeting the confused, clamorous enquiries of journalists and analysts with little more than a shrug.

And into this vacuum has rushed a bevy of self-appointed spokespeople and complainants, talking about the Masterplan that will end with Jain taking over the (insurance) world. With rhetoric, accusations and rumours flying around uncorrected by an authorised version of events, it has been difficult to grasp just how much has changed at Berkshire Hathaway, why it has changed and to what degree any such plan with a capital "P" exists.

The what

The first signs of a new Ajit Jain came at the January 2012 renewals, when the potential heir to Buffett played big on Australasian cat and international retro.

Jain took a large share of the IAG property cat treaty that had handed painful losses on to the pre-existing markets. It looked like classic Jain: hundreds of millions of dollars of capacity thrown at the feet of a cedant that was struggling for capacity. In hindsight, it became clear that it was the first in a series of mammoth cat and multi-line deals with cedants from Asia Pacific.

IAG was followed by a hefty (and uncapped) retro quota share for Asia Capital Re; next came some aggressive Japanese quake pro rata deals and a gargantuan quota share with Toa Re.

After Berkshire Hathaway made its presence felt during the Indian renewals, the New Zealand Earthquake Commission (EQC) was next as the reinsurer came from a standing start to write a NZ$500mn line to help the programme expand substantially.

By far the most prominent deal in Jain's Asia Pacific push was made with loss-hit Australasian cedant Suncorp. Berkshire ramped its line on the main programme up to around $800mn, hoovered up the entire New Zealand buy-down protection and wrote a $300mn-premium quota share of Suncorp's Queensland homeowners' book. It is believed all of this was written for a three-year period.

And this agreement overshadowed a multi-year deal with Berkshire that took the whole of New Zealand insurer AMI's NZ$1.4bn cat programme out of the market, denying resentful loss-paying markets the chance to earn their payback.

At the beginning of 2013 Berkshire filled in the final piece of its Australasian strategy by striking a deal with QBE to write 15 percent shares of a range of its programmes, including the company's $1.3bn global cat treaty and its global aggregate cover.

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Canadian Value

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