2012 insured losses show decline from previous year

BERLIN – Natural disasters cost insurers $65 billion last year, with the United States accounting for nine-tenths of the bill and Superstorm Sandy prompting payouts of $25 billion, a leading insurance company said Thursday.

However, Munich Re AG said the total insured losses worldwide were down from a record $119 billion in 2011, when devastating earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand cost the industry dearly.

The company said total economic costs in 2012 from natural disasters worldwide — including uninsured losses — amounted to $160 billion, compared with the previous year’s $400 billion.

Munich Re estimated insured losses from Sandy at $25 billion and total losses at $50 billion, although it cautioned the figures are “still subject to considerable uncertainty.”

The lengthy drought that seared parts of the United States last summer produced 2012’s second-biggest insurance bill. Munich Re said the insured losses, being picked up by a public-private crop insurance program, totaled between $15 billion and $17 billion — most of the $20 billion worth of overall crop losses.

Hormel Foods to purchase Skippy peanut butter brand

NEW YORK – Hormel Foods apparently has a hankering for a peanut butter and bacon sandwich. The company primarily known for Spam and other cured, smoked and deli meats said Thursday that it’s buying Skippy, the country’s No. 2 peanut butter brand, in its biggest-ever acquisition.

The company is hoping Skippy, which it’s buying from Unilever for $700 million, will help it expand at home and overseas.

Skippy, which was introduced in 1932 and is a staple in American pantries, is intended to increase Hormel’s presence in the center of the supermarket where nonperishable foods are sold.

It also gives the Austin, Minn.-based company a stronger footing in international markets. Skippy is sold in about 30 countries and is the leading peanut butter brand in China, where Hormel has been trying to build up its Spam business for the past several years.

Hearst newspaper group apologizes for gun show ad

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – The Hearst Connecticut Media Group apologized Thursday because one of its newspapers ran an ad for an antique gun show next to an article about the Newtown school shooting.

A statement released by Group Publisher Paul Farrell said the ad’s placement in The Advocate of Stamford was the result of an oversight.

“Our newspapers should not be running gun ads — including ads for antique and collectible gun shows — next to stories about Sandy Hook. It’s insensitive, and it shouldn’t have happened,” the group said in the statement referring to the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“We have taken steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The ad for the East Coast Fine Arms Show appeared Thursday beside an article about students at the school.

Fixed mortgage rates move closer to their record lows

WASHINGTON – Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages moved closer to their record lows this week, a trend that has made home buying more affordable and helped sustain a housing recovery.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year loan slipped to 3.34 percent from 3.35 percent last week. That’s near the 3.31 percent rate reached in November, the lowest on records dating to 1971.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage ticked down to 2.64 percent from 2.65 percent last week. The record low is 2.63 percent.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate averaged 3.66 percent in 2012, the lowest annual average in 65 years, according to Freddie Mac.

— From news service reports