Hannover Re chief executive Ulrich Wallin dubbed Q1 2011 the “worst ever quarter for catastrophe losses in the reinsurance industry” as his firm turned a small profit.

The reinsurer made a Q1 2011 profit of €52.3m, down 65.4% on the €151m profit it made in the first quarter of last year.

Hannover Re posted an underwriting loss of €382.7m for the quarter, compared with a loss of €49.1m in Q1 2010. The non-life combined ratio came in at 123.8%, compared with 99.3% in the same period last year.

However, the result was propped up by a 10.3% increase in gross written premium to €3.14bn and a 34% increase in net investment income to €392m. The company also benefited from reserve releases, the refund of taxes paid between 1993 and 2001 and “satisfying” performance in its life and health business.

The life and health unit made a profit of €41.5m in Q1 2011, down 9.4% on the €45.8m it made in the same period of 2010.

Speaking in a conference call to journalists, Wallin said: “This could be the worst ever quarter for losses in the reinsurance industry. With this in mind, it will not come as a surprise that our results have fallen short of expectations.”

First-quarter natural catastrophes cost Hannover Re €572m – €452m higher than its general first quarter loss expectancy, and also higher than its full-year loss expectancy of €530m.

Hannover Re chief financial officer Roland Vogel told the conference call: “Despite the retrocession, the large loss catastrophe budgets are already more than exhausted today.”