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S&P Forecasts Stable Outlook for U.S. Life Insurance Industry

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A major credit rating agency says in a new report that it is maintaining its “stable” outlook on the U.S. life insurance industry.

Standard & Poor’s, New York, published the report, “U.S. Life Insurance 2012 Outlook: Solid Capital And Liquidity Support A Stable Outlook In The Face Of Macroeconomic Headwinds,”in RatingsDirect, which appears in the company’s Global Credit Portal.

The stable outlook, Standard & Poor’s says, reflects the company’s “expectation of continued strong capital and liquidity, and moderate investment portfolio losses.”

The company qualified the statement by noting that it “continues to monitor the macroeconomic headwinds facing life insurers, including low interest rates and equity market volatility.

“Such sustained conditions are likely to result in an increase in negative rating outlooks for individual insurers during 2012,” the report adds. “We do not expect to downgrade many life insurance companies as we enter 2012, unless we lower the U.S. sovereign rating (AA+/Negative/A-1+).”

Standard & Poor’s says that a one-notch downgrade of the U.S. would likely result in a downgrade of the eight life insurance groups the company currently rates ‘AA+’.

The rating agency forecasts GDP growth of 1.8% growth in 2011 and 1.7% in 2012. And it pegs the likelihood of another recession at 35%, down from 40% in September.

Standard & Poor’s is less sanguine about the debt crisis in Europe.

“Unless European policy makers are able to stabilize the situation, there is a risk of contagion throughout the global financial system and a global recession,” the company says.

Europe aside, the company adds, “we believe the life insurance industry is in a strong position to absorb the near-term challenges of declining interest rates and dips in the equity markets. And we likely won’t change many ratings before the end of 2012.”