According to the Chinese calendar, 2013 was the Year of the Snake. But the investment and insurance community may well look back on it as the Year of the Annuity.

Fresh sales data from Beacon Research and the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI) document an annuity sales boom, at least through the first three quarters of last year. Industry-wide annuity sales for the third quarter of 2013 reached a two-year high of $57.5 billion, according to IRI, led by fixed annuities, sales of which grew 50 percent from the first quarter to the third quarter of last year, during which they recorded their highest sales levels since 2009. The surge on the fixed side more than offset a 6 percent drop in variable annuity sales from the second quarter of 2013 to the third ($35.1 billion compared to $37.3 billion).

Products in the fixed annuity class gained appeal largely thanks to an increase in the 10-year constant Treasury maturity rate, which, according to IRI, led to higher payout amounts on immediate and deferred income annuities, along with higher crediting rates on fixed deferred annuities, and higher caps and participation rates on fixed indexed annuities.

All told, third-quarter fixed annuity sales rose 31 percent from the prior quarter and 35 percent from the same period a year ago, to $22.6 billion, according to Beacon Research. Within the fixed annuity space, sales of deferred income annuities (DIAs) were expected to more than double in 2013, to in excess of $2 billion from $1 billion a year ago, according to IRI, noting that the number of companies offering DIAs also has doubled since the start of 2012.

Combined income annuity sales (including both immediate income and DIAs) set quarterly and year-to-date records, rising almost 19 percent to $2.8 billion, Beacon reported. Meanwhile, third-quarter sales of indexed annuities beat second-quarter levels by 10 percent, setting new quarterly and year-to-date records in the process. “Quarter-over-quarter sales were up among all fixed annuity product types,” said Jeremy Alexander, CEO of Beacon Research, “and, for the first time since 2008, in all major distribution channels.”

Time will tell how much that momentum carries over to 2014.