The nation’s top 100 life insurers suffered record unrealized capital losses last year, according to Highline Data.

The Highline Data 2008 Top 100 Performance Monitor revealed a sharp plunge in unrealized capital gains/losses among the top 100 life insurers, from a gain of $1.4 billion in 2007 to a loss of $51.7 billion in 2008

The sharp year-over-year decline for the life industry was driven by sharp drops in stock values. Capital paid-in, however, held the surplus decline to 4.7%.

Additional results of the Performance Monitor reveal other troubling signs for the industry going into 2009, including declines in surplus of 4.7% for life insurers. Life companies reported a return on equity of -0.3% in 2008, down from 12.8% in 2007.

Highline Data is a sister company of National Underwriter. Both are units of Summit Business Media L.L.C.