Most syndicates of this kind - known as spiral syndicates because their underwriters reinsure each other's risks - made big losses in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Among them were the Gooda Walker syndicates, with losses so far of nearly pounds 1bn, whose agents are being sued for pounds 629m in damages for negligence.
The two spiral syndicates that bucked the trend, 536 and 902, made their names - investors in the syndicates - pounds 719 and pounds 1,022 respectively on a pounds 10,000 investment in 1991.
Both marine syndicates, they had bought enough reinsurance to protect them against their spiral losses.
Charles Sturge, a director of Chatset, said: 'It shows that some people can make decent profits even in the most abysmal market. It is down to the skill of the underwriter.'
The best-performing syndicate, non-marine 1176, returned a profit of pounds 3,865 on a pounds 10,000 investment in 1991. The worst, marine syndicate 833, lost pounds 10,963.
Mr Sturge said: 'Although 113 syndicates made a profit, twice as many made a loss, and the average loss was six times the size of the average profit. There are some bright underwriters and an awful lot of dreadful ones.'
Chatset calculated that the losses on spiral syndicates with open years deteriorated by pounds 282m last year, mainly because of pollution and asbestos claims. Mr Sturge said the spiral was slowly working its way out of the market, but latent pollution and asbestos claims were still increasing.
The global loss at Lloyd's was pounds 2bn in 1991. Names will receive cash calls of about pounds 1.8bn next month.Reuse content