Any further market hardening has to be driven by the demands of the wider capital markets

Is there anything more primal and satisfying than growing your own food?

Urban hipsters are the latest to reacquaint themselves with the romantic pleasure of cultivating a little of one’s own produce, even if this is hopelessly impractical, uneconomic and often amounts – sometimes literally – to a single row of beans in a Williamsburg window box.

But the desire for a return to self-sufficiency has been with us ever since we humans first moved to organised settlements and started to professionalise and rely on others to get the harvest in for us. Growing your own assuages the anxiety of having to rely on others for sustenance.

This is why although home-grown food sometimes costs more than what is available in the supermarket, it tastes much sweeter.

Perhaps this is why our current mildly hardening market is being so enjoyed by all and sundry? It may not be the best market we have ever known, but it is the first for many years that is the fruit of our own labour. We nurtured it, we tilled the soil, we dug in fertiliser and we watered it conscientiously. It has been hard work. That’s why it feels so good.

Now we see green shoots appearing we are naturally excited. But like hipster farmers without access to land and machinery, we are crazy if we think are anywhere near doing away with the weekly shop. And the weekly shop is only getting cheaper.

Much of the hardening has come about through the actions of large players. They have pruned and tweaked and pulled out of some lines. But these effects could be just one-offs that will be forgotten after a year, once the numbers work through.

Without a continuous supply of remedial actions at more players, the hardening effect will eventually just wear off. For the moment it seems the work begun by Lloyd’s and AIG is going to be continued by Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, Zurich and others.

But once everyone has done the last of their remedying how much longer can the pick-your-own hard market last?

The tough decisions will come when we harden enough to get back to marginal prospective profitability.

Will we see this as job done, stop trimming and indeed return to growth mode? After all, every gardener will tell you that pruning is the most powerful stimulant to new growth.

What we need to remember is that the macro capital markets are softening, not hardening.

We are probably entering a global recession and interest rates are reaching new negative lows everywhere you look. Today on social media a senior reinsurance executive posted a link to an article about negative 10-year mortgage rates in Denmark. Yes, some lucky Danes get paid by their bank to borrow!

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