Net sales of variable annuities surged in the third quarter of 2011, reaching their highest level since the comparable period in 2007, according to a new study.

The Insured Retirement Institute, Washington, D.C., published this finding in a summary of results from a third quarter survey of annuity sales. IRI carried out the survey in collaboration with Beacon Research, Evanston, Ill., and the investment research firm Morningstar, Chicago.

Net variable annuity sales totaled $8.9 billion in the third quarter, up 38% from the $6.4 billion posted in the year-ago period. The current quarter’s total variable annuity sales—net sales plus surrenders, withdrawals, inter- and intra-company changes and benefit payments—reached $39.1 billion, a 15% gain from the $34 billion recorded in the third quarter of 2010.

Variable annuity net assets totaled $1.4 trillion in the third quarter. This represents a 5.5% dip from the $1.5 trillion recorded in the third quarter of 2010, IRI reports.

As a percentage of total assets, IRI says, equities accounted for 39.9% of variable annuity assets. Fixed accounts and allocation assets each accounted for 22.6%, followed by bonds at 12.3% and money markets at 2.7%, IRI reports.

Fixed annuity sales in the third quarter reached nearly $19 billion, a 7.3% dip from the $20.5 billion posted one year ago, IRI says.

Among all fixed annuity sales—book value, market value adjusted, indexed and income—indexed annuities garnered the lion’s share of sales, topping out at $9.008 billion. This compares with $8.972 billion for the year-ago period.

In the third quarter, IRI, adds, indexed annuity sales accounted for 47.5% of all fixed annuity sales. This contrasts with 34%, 11.7% and 6.8% for book value, income and market-value adjusted annuities, respectively.