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Intact Financial CEO Charles Brindamour

MIKE CASSESE

Intact Financial Corp. , the country's biggest home, auto and business insurer, reported a third-quarter loss on Wednesday and suggested that insurance premiums across the sector are going to continue to head north.

The company's loss of $8-million, or 7 cents per share, compares to a profit of $57.3-million, or 47 cents per share, in the same period a year ago. Intact was known as ING Canada before its Dutch parent spun it off into a publicly traded company that listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange earlier this year.

A slew of factors, including bad weather, the financial crisis, and regulations, have made the past year very difficult for property and casualty insurers. In its financial statements, Intact, which controls about 11 per cent of the total market, said that it anticipates insurance premiums will go up over the next 12 months in all of its lines of business because of three main factors that are affecting the entire industry: a significant deterioration in underwriting margins in 2008, lower returns on investment portfolios, and lower levels of excess capital.

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Industry-wide auto insurance rates in Ontario, the country's largest market, have already gone up an average of 6.3 per cent so far this year, the company noted.

"In personal property, premiums are expected to continue to rise in the high single-digit range due to dramatic increases in water-related losses in recent years, which are now the leading cause of home insurance claims," it added. Abnormal weather events in the latest quarter, from hail storms in Alberta to tornadoes in central Canada, caused net catastrophe claims of $81.3-million, nearly four times higher than a year ago.

The same factors that are spurring price increases are also likely to lead to a reduction in the amount of insurance the industry offers and some merger and acquisition activity, the company suggested.

It insures about 4 million consumers and businesses.

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