When China sneezes. . .

February 28, 2007

This isn’t of course, a reference to flu pandemic worries, but rather to  Tuesday’s dramatic stock market sell-off.

If anyone needs any further evidence of the globalization of business and economies, it’s right there in stock market analysts’ assessment that Tuesday’s 3.3% drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average had its start in a 9% drop in the Shanghai stock market earlier in the day.

Preceding the downturn in the Dow was a rolling wave of stock market losses that made its way west with the sun from China after Tuesday’s market close in Shanghai.

Of course, what the title of this post does make reference to is the once popular saying that “When General Motors sneezes, the whole country catches a cold.” As it turns out, another item in today’s business news addresses Toyota’s announcement of plans to build a new $1.3 billion auto plant in Mississippi, and the fact that the Japanese automaker likely will overtake GM this year as the  world’s largest car manufacturer.

 The insurance business has been a global business for quite some time, and industry interest in emerging markets like China and India show it will become even more so.  A global marketplace offers a world of opportunities, though attempts to tap them obviously must involve careful scrutiny of the local risks inherent in various markets.


Oughtta be a law

February 16, 2007

Well, after telling State Farm and other insurers that a contract isn’t a contract in Mississippi, Attorney General Jim Hood apparently now would like to tell them it’s against the law for them not to do business in the state.

Mr. Hood’s latest action comes after State Farm announced it would no longer write homeowners and small business insurance in Mississippi following the company’s ongoing legal battles over Hurricane Katrina claims. State Farm–like other insurers–has said its homeowners insurance contract language did not cover damage from flood waters, while Mr. Hood has insisted that insurers are liable for hurricane-related damages regardless of the cause.

Today Mr. Hood said he would seek legislation that would force State Farm to continue writing homeowners business in Mississippi if the insurer chooses to write auto policies there. State Farm, meanwhile, said the attorney general’s most recent actions only underscore the difficulty in doing insurance business in Mississippi.

Last month, at the annual Property/Casualty Insurance Joint Industry Forum in New York, George Dale, Mississippi’s commissioner of insurance, said that since Katrina his twin goals have been getting policyholders’ claims settled and making sure there’s an ongoing insurance industry in Mississippi after those settlements are reached. He added, though, that some “well intentioned” politicians in his state don’t seem to understand that second goal.

 I wonder if he was thinking of anyone in particular.


There’s happiness in Hartford

February 13, 2007

A couple of weeks back I blogged about the people of Hartford, Conn., mourning the loss of the umbrella logo once associated with Travelers Insurance Co. The occasion was an announcement by Citigroup, the umbrella’s current owner, that it planned a rebranding effort, with the umbrella likely to wind up on the marketing trash heap.

At the time, Travelers, in its new incarnation as part of St. Paul Travelers Cos., indicated it wasn’t interested in acquiring the umbrella. The company had, afterall, recently begun a new marketing campaign employing a winged shield logo. But lo and behold, this morning St. Paul Travelers announced plans to purchase the umbrella from Citigroup and change its name to The Travelers Cos.

Terms of the acquisition weren’t announced, though Citigroup indicated it plans to use proceeds to help pay for its rebranding. Whatever the price, for residents of Hartford, where Travelers was once based and still home to many of the company’s operations, the rebirth of the cherished icon, which many in the city long considered their own, it’s money well spent.

On a personal note, while I’m happy for the people of Hartford, and applaud what I believe is a great marketing move by St. Paul Travelers,  today’s announcement left me in the kind of lurch that happens in the journalism business every now and then.

While it’s easy to quickly update the words on this blog, it’s more difficult to do so with our print products, particularly when deadlines fall some time in advance of actual publication dates. I refer to my column in the February issue of Industry Focus, due to hit people’s desks Monday. In the piece, I discuss the umbrella situation, with only St. Paul Travelers’ earlier statements about their lack of interest in acquiring the logo to work with. Oh well. There’ll be another issue next month, and I can give the folks in St. Paul a pat on the back for their marketing savvy then.

Gift that keeps on giving

February 6, 2007

Oh, oh. While you’d like to be associated with your nieces’ and nephews’ holiday memories, you’d hope it wouldn’t be as the uncle and aunt responsible for that permanent scar.

We were quite happy this past Christmas to be able to give one of our nieces a gift she evidently very much wanted–an Easy-Bake Oven. So it caused a bit of unease this morning to see that Hasbro Inc. is recalling nearly a million of the miniature kitchen appliances. According to an e-mail our niece sent Kathy a week or so ago, she’s had occasion to use her Easy-Bake to whip up a miniature cake or brownies or something, with no report of tragic misadventure. Apparently, though, it is possible for kids to get their fingers or hands caught in the opening to the oven, creating the potential for burns. Yikes!

According to a U.S. Product Safety Commission statement posted on Hasbro’s Easy-Bake site, the company’s Easy-Bake unit has received 29 reports of kids getting hands or fingers stuck in the oven, and five reports of burns. The company is offering a free retrofit kit along with a warning, and advising parents to take the oven away from children younger than eight.

While as an uncle and gift-giver I’m distressed about the Easy-Bake recall, I have every confidence that the situation will be resolved satisfactorily. Afterall, we’re talking about a toy that’s been around more than 40 years here, and one that last year was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame!

Go Bears!

February 2, 2007

This being the Friday before the Super Bowl and all, and a certain team from Chicago representing the National Football Conference in Sunday’s contest, as the afternoon wears on it’s become increasingly difficult to think about things other than the game.

It’s a good thing, then, that some representatives of Chicago’s insurance community have made a point of demonstrating their interest in the game as well. Hats off to CNA for their tribute to the “Super Bears” in the lights of Chicago’s CNA building, and to those responsible for providing the illuminated “Bears” message on the Aon Center and the “Bear Down” sentiment on the Blue Cross-Blue Shield building.

Go Bears!