Annuity sales in the third quarter rose 5% over the same period one year ago, a new report discloses.

The Insured Retirement Institute, Washington, published this finding in preliminary third quarter results for the U.S. annuity industry. The report is based on research by Beacon Research, Evanston, Ill., which tracks fixed and variable annuity features, rates and sales; and by Morningstar, Inc., Chicago, a provider of independent investment research in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia.

IRI reports that third quarter industry sales totaled $57 billion, up 5% from third quarter 2010 sales of $54.8 billion. Compared to second quarter sales of $60.3 billion, third quarter sales were down 6%.

“As annuity sales continue to outpace the impressive benchmarks established last year, this year is truly poised to be a historic one for the industry,” says IRI President and CEO Cathy Weatherford in a prepared statement. “With variable annuity sales growing this quarter by more than $2 billion, and fixed annuities maintaining a strong footing in the market, it is evident that risk-adverse investors are turning to these guarantees now more than ever. With this in mind, it is likely that 2011 will be the turning point for the industry, with sales reaching pre-crisis levels.”

IRI reports that fixed annuity sales for the third quarter were $17.9 billion, down from $20.4 billion in the previous quarter, a 12.3% decrease. Year-to-year quarterly sales of fixed annuities were down 12.7%, with the third quarter of 2010 coming in at $20.5 billion.  Year-to-date fixed annuity sales were $57.2 billion, 2.7% below $58.8 billion in 2010.

“Despite record-low interest rates, year-to-date fixed annuity sales have held up quite well,” said Beacon Research President Jeremy Alexander.  “The ongoing demand for guaranteed lifetime retirement income is evident in the year-to-date growth of income annuity sales.  This demand also drove the sequential increase for indexed annuities, most of which offer lifetime income features.”

Variable annuity sales for the third quarter were $39.1 billion, down 2% from $39.9 billion in the previous quarter. Year-to-year quarterly sales of variable annuities posted a 14% increase from third quarter 2010 sales of $34.3 billion. Year-to-date variable annuity sales were $118.1 billion, 17% above $100.7 billion in 2010.

Complete preliminary data for the third quarter can be found here.