UK insurers’ shares hit by claims fears

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Shares in UK insurance firms fell on the London market yesterday amid fears of mammoth claims from Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Stocks across the European insurance sector slumped, hitting even those with little or no exposure to Japan.

The wider FTSE 100 Index fell by more than 45 points at one stage before recovering to close 16.62 points lower at 5828.67 in a gloomy end to a tough week for global stock markets.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 slipped 1.7 per cent to a five-week low as the quake occurred just before the close of trading in Tokyo.

Stocks were already suffering after the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Wall Street suffered its biggest one-day drop since August on Thursday night and China reported unexpectedly high inflation.

Oil prices dipped below $100 (£61) a barrel for the first time this month, as the quake is likely to cut short-term demand for crude from Japan, which is the world’s third-biggest oil consumer.

Benchmark crude for April delivery fell $2.82 to $99.88 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Among stocks in London, reinsurers – who insure insurers – were the worst hit. Catlin Group dropped four per cent, while Amlin fell five per cent.

Blue chip insurers were also under pressure, with More Than parent RSA Insurance, Prudential and Legal & General all down two per cent.