2017 set to be costliest year: insurer QBE

Insurance giant QBE is increasing the amount of money it puts aside for natural disasters as 2017 shapes as the most costly year for the global insurance sector.

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QBE says it is increasing its 2017 large individual risk and catastrophe claims allowance to $US1.75 billion following hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and parts of the US, and Mexico’s earthquakes.

“Given catastrophe losses to date, 2017 will likely prove to be the costliest year in the history of the global insurance industry,” the company said in a statement.

Damage costs from cyclone Debbie in Australia, combined with the latest natural disasters overseasm have all impacted on QBE’s businesses, the company said.

Despite the uncertainty around the cost of the hurricanes and earthquakes, QBE said it had increased its claims allowance which would mean a pre-tax hit to earnings of about $US600 million.

Chief executive John Neal said the catastrophic events over the past month alone had caused substantial and widespread property and infrastructure damage.

“While it is too early to speculate how much reinsurance and primary insurance pricing will rise as a result of the recent catastrophe experience, QBE is well placed to benefit from price rises with much of our reinsurance programs already purchased for 2018,” he said.

The total net cost of large individual risk and catastrophe claims was $US1.056 billion in 2015/16, and $US1.067 billion in the year before that.

Shares in QBE dropped 36 cents, or 3.5 per cent, to a 10 month low of $9.82.

Las Vegas mass shooting: Donald Trump silent on gun control

Delivering televised remarks, Trump tried to offer consolation and called for unity – an act that has become a grim rite of passage for modern US presidents.

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Barack Obama wept as he tried to soothe the nation after the 2012 Sandy Hook primary school shooting, George W. Bush told Americans that the “nation grieves” after a similar outrage at Virginia Tech university.

Trump ordered that flags be flown at half-staff until sunset Friday, offered prayers for the victims and announced he would visit Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Later, he led White House staff on the South Lawn for a moment of silence.

“In moments of tragedy and horror, America comes together as one –  and it always has,” Trump said.

Police have identified the gunman behind the Sunday night massacre – which injured more than 500 people – as a 64-year-old former accountant named Stephen Craig Paddock, who killed himself before a SWAT team breached his 32nd floor hotel room.

Investigators recovered at least 16 guns, including assault rifles, from Paddock’s room at the Mandalay Bay, and another 18 firearms along with bomb-making materials at one of his two homes.

Officials have reacted cautiously to an Islamic State group claim that Paddock was a “soldier of the caliphate” but while his motive remained unclear, the shooting instantly rekindled the divisive national debate on gun control.

0:00 Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly push congress on gun violence Share Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly push congress on gun violence

‘Right to bear arms’

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that now was not the time for politics, a tactic frequently used by gun advocates to diffuse public outrage.

“There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country,” said Sanders.

Trump insisted, “our unity cannot be shattered by evil. Our bonds cannot be broken by violence.”

But in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, that unity was difficult to find.

Trump’s vanquished election rival Hillary Clinton hit out at the gun manufacturers lobby – the National Rifle Association –  which has backed a congressional push to make it easier to obtain a gun silencer.

0:00 Dramatic footage of Las Vegas shooting Share Dramatic footage of Las Vegas shooting

“The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots. Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer,” tweeted Clinton, whose Democratic Party has tried in vain to introduce lasting gun control measures.

“Our grief isn’t enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again.”

There have already been over 270 mass shootings in the United States this year alone, according to 南京桑拿,massshootingtracker南京楼凤,, although the exact definition is contested.

Gun violence accounts for more than 33,000 deaths each year in the United States, and according to the latest Gallup poll, 55 percent of American voters would like to see stricter rules for buying guns.

But the issue is highly sensitive and Trump’s own views have changed markedly over his years in public life.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, where 20 six and seven-year old children and six adults were mowed down by a disturbed 20-year-old, Trump appeared to favor stricter rules.

Back then, his predecessor Obama – who often called Sandy Hook the worst moment of his eight year presidency – called for the deadlock to be broken and for Congress to act.

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At that time Trump tweeted: “President Obama spoke for me and every American in his remarks in #Newtown Connecticut.”  

But since then Trump – whose White House bid was endorsed by the NRA – has positioned himself as a defender of the constitutional “right to keep and bear arms.”

The NRA donated an estimated $30 million to Trump’s campaign in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

US Senator Chris Murphy, who was the congressman for Sandy Hook, renewed a call for action in the wake of the Las Vegas attack.

“This must stop. It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren’t public policy responses to this epidemic,” he said.

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RBA cautiously upbeat, holds rates steady

An upswing in non-mining investment and a healthy infrastructure pipeline has cheered the central bank, but it is still worried that housing debt is growing faster than wages.

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Announcing the official interest rate will remain on hold at 1.5 per cent, Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe said the economy will gradually grow over the coming year, and noted an improvement in non-mining investment.

“Over recent months there have been more consistent signs that non-mining business investment is picking up,” he said on Tuesday.

“A consolidation of this trend would be a welcome development.”

Dr Lowe said business conditions were good, and noted a large pipeline of infrastructure investment.

“Against this, slow growth in real wages and high levels of household debt are likely to constrain growth in household spending,” he said.

“Growth in housing debt has been outpacing the slow growth in household incomes for some time.”

Dr Lowe said growth in investor borrowing has slowed following the introduction of supervisory measures by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

He also noted there have been further signs of cooling property prices in Sydney.

AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said the RBA appeared more confident about the investment outlook, and had noted that stronger employment should eventually drive wages growth.

But he said the bank also had to contend with the impact of a strong Australian dollar, an impending slowdown in housing construction, and low underlying inflation.

“The RBA and official interest rates remain stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Dr Oliver said.

“The next move in rates is likely to be up, but for now the downside risks are still significant and as such we remain of the view that it’s way too early to start raising rates just yet.”

Dr Lowe told federal parliament in August the next move in rates was likely to be up, but it would not come any time soon.

NAB chief markets economist Ivan Colhoun said there was nothing in Dr Lowe’s statement on Tuesday to suggest an early rate increase.

The Australian dollar dipped as low as 77.93 US cents following the rates announcement, the first time the local currency has dropped below 78 US cents since mid-July.

Vegas killer’s girlfriend sought: sheriff

A former Queensland resident who was reportedly the girlfriend of mass-murderer Stephen Paddock is the potential key to unlocking why he staged an horrific long-ranged sniper attack on a concert crowd from a high-rise Las Vegas casino.

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Marilou Danley was in Japan when Paddock filled his 32nd floor suite of the Mandalay Bay casino with 19 high-powered guns, including assault rifles with scopes, and fired on the crowd below, killing at least 59 concertgoers and injuring more than 500.

Paddock’s motive for the worst shooting spree in modern American history remains unclear, but authorities hope Ms Danley could have some answers.

Although Las Vegas police had said early on Monday Ms Danley was “no longer being sought out as a person of interest,” Sheriff Joseph Lombardo later said “We are continuing the investigation into that female.”

Authorities initially thought Ms Danley, 62, was in Las Vegas and released her driver’s license photo in the hope the public could help find her.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said US authorities contacted Australian officials to help locate her.

They eventually determined she was in Tokyo.

Born in the Phillippines, Ms Danley moved to Queensland where she married a local man and became an Australian citizen, living on the Gold Coast for around 10 years until the late 1980s. She is believed to have one sister still living in Australia.

Reports say she moved to the US 20 years ago, marrying Geary Danley from Arkansas.

She and Mr Danley reportedly divorced in 2015 and she was living with Paddock in Mesquite, Nevada, 130km from Las Vegas.

A raid on the home they shared discovered 23 additional firearms, explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

A stash of explosive ammonium nitrate was also found in Paddock’s car.

Sheriff Lombardo said authorities need to ask Ms Danley about the weapons.

“We are making arrangements to contact her upon her return,” he said.

The Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, a hotel and casino in Reno, said Ms Danley was a former employee.

“Ms Danley left employment with Atlantis several years ago,” Atlantis told AAP in a statement.

“We are cooperating with law enforcement and support their efforts to investigate and address this tragedy.”

On her Linkedin profile Ms Danley was listed as a high-limit hostess at the Atlantis.

Ms Danley’s social media sites showed she was a regular world traveller.

On Facebook she also described herself as a “proud mom and grandma who lives life to the fullest”.

Authorities said Paddock, a 64-year-old gambler and real estate investor, had been in the high-floor two room suite in the Mandalay Bay since Thursday.

Authorities believe Paddock killed himself when a SWAT team blasted their way into the suite.

‘Hoping for the best’: Leveson inquest

Faye Leveson says she knows in her heart who is responsible for the death of her son Matthew, regardless of the outcome of a long-running inquest.

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A coroner on Tuesday heard final submissions at the Sydney inquest, which began in December 2015 and this year led to their discovery of Matthew Leveson’s remains.

Deputy State Coroner Elaine Truscott has now reserved her findings into the death, and the Levesons say they’re hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

“It’s upsetting, I know we’ll probably get an open finding, but … we’ve been knocked down that many times I’m not expecting things to go our way,” Ms Leveson told reporters outside Glebe Coroner’s Court.

“The main thing was that we did find Matt, we got him back.

“If we get an open finding, we’ll have to just live with that, but we know in our hearts who was responsible for it.”

Mr Leveson, 20, was last seen leaving Darlinghurst’s ARQ nightclub with his boyfriend, Michael Atkins, in September 2007.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Tim Game SC, on Tuesday told the inquest there was no compelling evidence that Mr Leveson was killed by Atkins before the older man buried his body in the Royal National Park.

The 54-year-old long denied any knowledge of Mr Leveson’s whereabouts, but this year he led police to his boyfriend’s remains after striking a deal to avoid contempt of court and perjury charges.

Police offered him protection from the charges, in exchange for leading them to the body, after he admitted to lying during the police investigation and while giving evidence to the inquest.

Mr Leveson’s parents believe Atkins killed their son, possibly by strangulation or smothering.

But Mr Game told the inquest on Tuesday there was “ultimately no reliable objective evidence” as to the manner and cause of Mr Leveson’s death, and submitted that the coroner should make an open finding.

He also said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to point to a second person being involved in the disposal of Mr Leveson’s body, despite evidence about how difficult it would have been for one person to carry him.

Atkins last year said he decided to bury Mr Leveson in bushland south of Sydney after finding him dead from a drug overdose the morning after they went to ARQ nightclub.

In a police statement, he claimed he was worried about his reputation and thought “the problem would all go away” if he buried the body.

“I thought I could bury the body and nobody would know. I thought it would make it all better,” he said last year.