U.S. individual life sales were 10% higher in the first quarter than they were in the first quarter of 2009, according to LIMRA.

Universal life sales rose 17%, and 65% of the companies that participated in the individual life survey told LIMRA, Windsor, Conn., that UL sales had increased.

The number of UL policies sold was 21% higher than in the first quarter 2009.

The UL sales increase was the largest LIMRA has recorded since the third quarter of 2002.

New indexed UL premium revenue was about 50% higher in the first quarter than in the first quarter of 2009.

New products, sales of large policies, and focused sales campaigns drove the indexed UL sales gains, LIMRA says.

Whole life, the only major life product category to show sales growth in 2009, experienced the next biggest increase in first-quarter sales.

Whole-life sales were 15% higher than in the first quarter of 2009.

The increase in whole-life sales was the highest LIMRA has recorded since the fourth quarter of 2002.

Variable universal life sales increased 10%, but term sales fell 4%.

Fewer than half of the participating carriers said they had increased term life sales in the first quarter, LIMRA says.

Companies attributed the weakness in term life sales to price increases on longer duration term products and return-of-premium term products as a result of increased reserve requirements.

Ashley Durham, a senior analyst at LIMRA, warns against viewing the improvement in overall first-quarter sales as a reason to break out the champagne.

“While the increase is encouraging, it’s important to remember that in the first quarter of 2009, new individual life annualized premium dropped 26%, the sharpest decline since 1943,” Durham says. “To put it into perspective, sales in the first three months of 2010 are back to the level measured during the third quarter of 2003.”