Are Underwriting Cycles Real and Forecastable

Martin Boyer
HEC Montreal

Eric Jacquier
MIT Sloan and HEC Montreal

Simon Van-Norden
HEC Montreal


Speculative efficiency often requires that future changes in a series cannot be forecast. In contrast, series with a cyclical component would seem to be forecastable with decreases, possibly relative to a trend, during the upper part of the cycle and increases during the lower part. On the basis of autoregressive model (AR) estimates, it is considered that there is strong evidence of cycles in insurance underwriting performance as measured by the premium-to-loss ratio. Indeed, a large literature attempts to explain this documented cyclicality. First, we show that the parameter estimates from AR models do not lead to any such inference and that in the contrary, the evidence in the data is consistent with no cyclicality at all. Second, we show that a number of different filters lead to the same conclusion: that there is no evidence of in-sample or out-of-sample predictability in annual insurance underwriting performance in the United States.