Industry Surplus Spurted In 4th Quarter
By Frederick S. Townsend
Life insurance industry surplus rose an amazing 9% in the fourth quarter of 2002, prompted by a confluence of favorable developments, for 130 major U.S. life insurance companies comprising 85% of industry assets. In the first nine months of 2002, industry surplus had declined by 4.8%.
Data from the Analyzer, an Insurance Research Group (http://irg.informausa.com) Web-based information service, show that the sum of surplus, asset valuation reserve and interest maintenance reserve rose from $186.1 billion to $202.9 billion in the fourth quarter, after a decline of $14.2 billion in the first nine months of 2002.
Operating earnings rose significantly. Industry executives attribute the earnings gain to reduced sales of variable products and related surplus strain, reductions in commissions paid to agents and other home-office economies, and the cumulative effects of reducing interest rates credited on fixed life and annuity products.
Operating earnings were $7.8 billion in the fourth quarter, compared to $8.2 billion for the first nine months of 2002. The LIBRA 130-company composite reported a modest net capital gain in the fourth quarter, compared to net capital losses of $18.4 billion in the first nine months.
Surplus paid-in set a record high in 2002, for the 130-company composite, with new surplus paid-in of $4.1 billion in the first nine months and $8.9 billion in the fourth quarter. The $13 billion paid-in surplus in 2002 broke the record high of $12.2 billion set in 2000.
Meanwhile, shareholder dividend payments were constrained to $10 billion, the lowest aggregate payout for the composite in the last three years.
Despite the strong fourth quarter, when all is said and done, it took $5.7 billion of accounting changes by 14 New York domiciled insurers to produce a $4.4 billion gain in total surplus for the 130-company composite in 2002.
In 2001, companies not domiciled in New York made $9.5 billion of accounting changes due to NAIC Codification standards (measures delayed for New York domiciled insurers), yet surplus funds declined by $0.5 billion. In 2002, the accounting changes for New York companies exceeded the gain in industry surplus.
Table 1 shows the components of surplus changes for the composite of 130 companies for the five years 1998-2002, respectively.
Although operating earnings for the composite rose from $12.6 billion in 2001 to $16 billion in 2002, industry earnings were still short of the record high $18.9 billion posted in 2000.
Net capital losses of $36 billion for 2000-2002 are equivalent to 18% of industry surplus at Dec. 31, 2002.
Excluding $14.8 billion of National Association of Insurance Commissioners Codification accounting changes in 2001 and 2002, life industry surplus has not increased since 1999, and would only be 1.8% higher than at year-end 1998.
Table 2 shows that the 121 stock companies in the 130-company composite set a record by paying in $13 billion of new surplus in 2002 ($8.9 billion in the fourth quarter alone). They paid only $10 billion in shareholder dividends (the lowest total in three of the last four years).