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U.S. Life Insurance Industry Withstands Buffeting, But Faces More Risks

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The U.S. life insurance industry may begin to see some erosion in results in the third quarter, despite strong earnings in the first half, according to a report published today by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services.

However, the ratings agency does not expect to take many to task for this, in ratings actions, for the rest of the year.

Life insurers faced risks to their stable outlook at the close of the third quarter, due to continued low interest rates, equity market declines and the “specter of a double-dip recession,” S&P stated.

“Still, we believe most insurers have sufficient capital adequacy and liquidity to meet these near-term challenges, and we do not expect to take many rating actions before 2012,” S&P stated. “We are therefore maintaining our stable outlook on the industry, although we may revise more outlooks to negative in the coming months.”

A bright spot is the fact that credit losses have been abating, particularly related to corporate debt and the fact that life insurers withstood the economies vagaries in the first half of the year.

“We view capital adequacy and liquidity as key factors supporting our stable outlook on the generally high investment-grade financial strength ratings on life insurers,” the report concluded.

MetLife, one of the largest stock life insurance companies, will release its third quarter 2011 earnings on Oct. 27, 2011, after the market closes,with a conference call the following day. It has already cited the uncertain market in a couple of key transactions.

The New York-based company announced Wednesday that in addition to its previously announced decision to explore a sale of MetLife Bank, N.A.’s depository business, the company will now also explore a sale of the bank’s forward mortgage business to concentrate on its core business, global insurance and employee benefits.

Today’s “uncertain marketplace and regulatory environment require a tremendous amount of resources – both in terms of people and capital – to effectively compete in and profitably grow the forward mortgage business…As previously noted, exiting the depository business and deregistering as a bank holding company also will enable MetLife to operate within the same regulatory framework as other insurance companies,” the company stated in a release.

The S&P report was published on RatingsDirect, on the Global Credit Portal.