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Feast or famine

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When I talk to advisors, I keep hearing both positive and negative stories about how they’re faring this year. More than once, I’ve heard the phrase “feast or famine” when talking about their success rate.

It appears that this phenomenon is not exclusive to advisors; it’s the story for products as well. According to first quarter reports from LIMRA, there’s plenty of good and bad news in the world of safe products these days.

Since we like to keep a bullish attitude on the industry, let’s take a peek into the good stuff first.

While much of the financial world was hit with a perfect storm of turmoil, it appears that fixed annuities were among those rare products that have not seen a dip in sales.

In fact, according to LIMRA, fixed annuities outsold variable annuities for the second quarter in a row: $35.6 billion to $30.7 billion.

“The last time fixed annuities outsold variable for two consecutive quarters was in the first half of 1995,” said Joe Montminy, research director for LIMRA’s annuity research.

“Consumers, still leery of the volatile stock market and looking for secure, competitive guaranteed rates of return, continued to invest more money into fixed annuities for their retirement income needs,” Montminy adds.

According to the report, a 74 percent uptick in fixed annuities sales carried overall individual annuity sales to a six percent gain. Total annuity sales hit $66 billion for the quarter. Among the gainers were indexed annuities (21 percent), fixed immediate annuities (12 percent) and a staggering 200 percent spike for market value adjusted products. Staying in the annuities universe, the opposite was true of variable annuities, which plummeted 27 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

Life insurance

“Historically, recessions have had little effect on individual life insurance sales; however, it appears the severity of this current economic downturn has impacted sales dramatically,” said Robert Kerzner, president and CEO of LIMRA. “To put it into perspective, the last time quarterly sales dropped this much was in 1943.”

In all, premium from individual life insurance sales declined 26 percent for the quarter. Again, variable products took the hardest hit, with a 61 percent drop. Also down was universal life with a 33 percent drop.

If there’s a positive trend to keep an eye on in the life insurance world it’s the impact of whole life. The product dropped only five percent in the first quarter after posting gains the previous three quarters.