NU Online News Service, Sept. 16, 12:14 p.m. – U.S. life and health insurers earned more in the first quarter, but they also took more risks, according to Weiss Ratings, Inc., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

The rating agency found that life and health insurers combined for a $4.5 billion profit for the first quarter on $124 billion in net written premiums, up from $3.4 billion in profits on $118 billion in net written premiums for the first quarter of 2001.

Policy surrenders, life claims and annuity claims were all down in the first quarter, Weiss says.

But Weiss found that industry capital fell to $232 billion March 31, down from $233 billion a year earlier.

Capital shrank because insurers shifted more capital into reserves that are supposed to protect them against future investment losses, Weiss says.

Insurers could end up needing investment loss reserves, because they ended the first quarter with $117 billion in assets in low-rated bonds, up 8% from a year earlier, Weiss says.