OLDWICK, N.J.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- A.M. Best Co.’s rating outlook on the U.S. life insurance and annuity sector remains stable through mid-year 2012, despite the continued pressure of the low interest rate environment on earnings, according to its new briefing. The Federal Reserve has indicated that interest rates will remain at historically low levels through at least mid-year 2015, based on the most recent Federal Open Market Committee statement on September 13, 2012. Life and annuity writers are at particular risk due to their dependency on investment income to supplement underwriting income and ultimately generate profitable earnings trends for stakeholders and policyholders.
Asset-liability matching is critical for insurers in order to match their long duration liabilities, particularly interest-sensitive business—such as fixed and variable annuities, universal life with secondary guarantees, pre-need products, long-term disability and long-term care—with assets that will generate positive spreads, minimize reinvestment risk and achieve their investment income targets.
Insurers have historically preferred the fixed-income securities (FIS) asset class—U.S. government, foreign government, U.S. state and special revenue (municipals), utilities, corporate and asset-backed securities—due to their generally fixed returns and high credit quality. Since a large percentage of an insurance company’s investment portfolio typically consists of FIS that were purchased at higher yields than currently are available, portfolio yields are likely to decline unless insurers reinvest in higher risk securities. In the decades prior to the financial crisis, FIS offered attractive yields that allowed companies to match their assets with long-duration liabilities, with few concerns regarding minimum interest guarantees. However, from 1997 to 2011, net yields for FIS have been declining fairly consistently, which has increased the challenge to manage investment portfolios.
To counteract the impact of low interest rates on spread compression and earnings volatility, insurers are strategically de-risking their legacy product portfolios. Strategies include exiting, repricing or de-emphasizing certain business lines, particularly interest-sensitive businesses, and in some cases, revising their investment allocations to stretch for yield. However, other companies, instead, have de-risked their investment portfolios, which may accelerate investment yield deterioration.
For a full complimentary copy of the briefing, please visit www.ambest.com/press/101506lifeannuitybriefing.
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Copyright © 2012 by A.M. Best Company, Inc.ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
A.M. Best Co.
Louis Savarese,908-439-2200, ext. 5168
Senior Financial Analyst
Thomas Rosendale,908-439-2200, ext. 5201
Assistant Vice President
Rachelle Morrow, 908-439-2200, ext. 5378
Senior Manager, Public Relations
Jim Peavy, 908-439-2200, ext. 5644
Assistant Vice President, Public Relations
Source: A.M. Best Co.