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Sandy will rack up claims for insurers

So how much will all this cost?

We’re going to spend the next few days focused on the really important storm basics — making sure everyone is safe and figuring out how to get all the lights back on. Then we’ll devote a lot more time to assessing the damage and calculating who will have to pay how much.

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One safe estimate: big bucks.

Eqecat, which helps create computer models to calculate the risk from storms, estimated Sandy could cause $10 billion to $20 billion in total economic losses, and $5 billion to $10 billion in insurance claims. Costs like that would be similar to expense of Hurricane Irene last year or Ike in 2008.

Irene was responsible for $4.3 billion in private insurance losses and hundreds of millions of dollars more in flood losses that are not typically covered by insurance companies. The Insurance Information Institute says Irene may be the best benchmark storm for any prediction on the potential cost of Sandy.

“These losses are potentially comparable but it’s too early to say,” according to Robert Hartwig, president of the institute. “What we’re likely to see is a potentially large number of claims but relatively low severity. This storm is impacting a large area that’s densely populated, but it’s not the kind of event that destroys structures completely.”

About 284,000 homes from Virginia to New England, valued at more than $87 billion, are at risk from Sandy, according to CoreLogic, a real estate data firm. That includes 22,000 Massachusetts homes worth nearly $8 billion.

So far this year, insurers have suffered relatively mild losses from claims related to catastrophic weather events. Those claims are down as much as 50 percent compared with 2011.

Besides Irene, deadly tornadoes in Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., led to especially expensive damage in 2011.

While many insurance companies will be hit with claims from Sandy, Liberty Mutual of Boston is among a handful of property and casualty insurers that have especially large financial exposure to this hurricane. It is a leading insurer to both homeowners and businesses up and down the East Coast — and well inland — where the storm is expected to cause the most damage.

Liberty Mutual is the leading home insurer in New England, writing 11 percent of the coverage across the region last year. It wrote 8.3 percent of New England commercial insurance coverage in 2011, trailing only Travelers Cos., which wrote 8.7 percent.

Allstate Corp. and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance dominate the homeowners insurance markets in New York and New Jersey — each with double-digit market shares in both states.

Liberty Mutual is a significant insurer there as well, accounting for about 8 percent of the homeowners coverage written in New York and New Jersey last year. It was the second-largest commercial insurer in New York and fourth in New Jersey.

.   .   .

What happens when companies have news for the market but no one is around to hear it?

Some companies were scheduled to release quarterly financial updates Monday but chose to postpone once it was clear the stock market would not open. Markets will remain closed Tuesday as well.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Cambridge rescheduled its quarterly update to Thursday. Liberty Mutual took caution one step further — canceling a quarterly financial conference call initially scheduled for Tuesday. Affiliated Managers Group Inc. of Beverly postponed Tuesday’s planned quarterly report until the following day.

But other companies pressed ahead with their original timetables.

Haemonetics Inc. of Braintree released its quarterly earnings report and news of a stock split first thing in the morning. Cognex Corp. of Natick released its report at the end of the day but postponed a follow-up conference call.

Avid Technology Inc. of Burlington, which had already warned investors about a disappointing quarter, delivered the bad news yesterday.

But there weren’t many people around to hear any of it.

Todd Wallack and Megan Woolhouse of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Steven Syre is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at syre@globe.com.
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