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Last Apr. 14, Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted. Five days later, Nissan Motor shut down three auto assembly lines in Japan. The factories had run out of tire-pressure sensors when a plane carrying a shipment from a supplier in Ireland was grounded because of volcanic ash. At a BMW plant in Spartanburg, S.C., work slowed after transmissions couldn't be delivered from Germany.
What was the probability of that happening? That's the kind of question Munich Re must grapple with. Munich Re is the world's biggest reinsurer, one of a handful of industry giants, including Swiss Re and Berkshire Hathaway's Gen Re, that sell policies to insurance companies to cover the risks they absorb from policyholders. That gives the 130-year-old company an unparalleled view of just about everything that could go wrong in the world. And in a global economy, figuring out where and why those things might happen is getting a lot more complicated.
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