Japan just marked the first anniversary of its devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami. Closer to home, in early March, off-season tornadoes wreaked havoc in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.

With Mother Nature on the warpath, it might seem like an odd time for catastrophe bonds to be making a comeback, but issuance of these short-term, high-yielding bonds linked to insuring against natural disasters may “break the $5 billion mark this year for the first time since 2007,” according to a report issued in February by Willis Capital Markets & Advisory, the investment banking arm of the New York City and London-based global insurance broker.

And $5 billion “may be a little bit conservative,” says William Dubinsky, the head of insurance-linked securities at Willis, noting another estimate from one of the industry’s top investment managers, John Seo, the co-founder of Fermat Capital Management of Westport, Connecticut, which has $2.1 billion in insurance-linked assets under management. On March 2 at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s annual conference on Insurance- & Risk-Linked Securities in New York City, Seo said that with $3 billion to $4 billion “already committed to the cat bond market in 2012,” he had “no doubt” issuance could hit $7 billion this year. If it does, that would make for a 62.8 percent increase from last year’s $4.3 billion in the natural disaster category. (There is another type of cat bond linked to “life” risks like pandemics, but that is a much smaller and less active sector.)

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