NU Online News Service, Sept. 22, 2004, 5:27 p.m. EDT

Firming investment markets helped U.S. life and health insurers treble their profits during the first quarter.[@@]

Life and health insurers reported a total of $8.7 billion in profits for the quarter, up from $2.8 billion in total profits for the first quarter of 2003, according to Weiss Ratings Inc., Jupiter, Fla.

Profits were up partly because capital gains increased $3.1 billion and investment income increased $1.5 billion, Weiss researchers report.

Weiss also looked at industry separate accounts and junk bond holdings.

The stock market rebound contributed to a 29% increase in separate account holdings, to $277 billion, and shifts in investment strategies and improving business credit quality cut the value of life and health insurers’ junk bond holdings 6%, to $138 billion. Junk bonds accounted for 5.23% of invested assets at the end of the quarter, down from 6.04% a year earlier, Weiss says.