First-quarter annuity sales reached $56.7 billion, a 7.6% increase from the year-ago quarter but down 4.1% from the previous quarter, according to just-released research by Beacon Research and Morningstar.

The Insured Retirement Institute, a lobbying group for the annuity industry, cited the research in a report released Friday.

Fixed annuity sales during the quarter were at their highest level in seven years, Beacon found, while sales of fixed annuities reached $30.7 billion, a 47.2% increase from the first quarter of 2015 and up 8.8% compared with the fourth quarter of 2015.

Variable annuity total sales decreased to $26 billion in the first quarter of 2016, according to Morningstar. This was an 18.5% decline from $31.8 billion in the year-ago quarter and a 16% decline from $30.9 billion in the prior quarter, IRI reported.

Total Q1 annuity sales. Source: IRI, Beacon Research

But it remains to be seen if annuity sales will continue to do well, as the annuity industry is challenging in various courts the Department of Labor’s rule to amend the definition of fiduciary on retirement accounts on the basis that the rule attacks annuities.

The American Council of Life Insurers, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council, the National Association of Fixed Annuities and an insurance agency, the Market Synergy Group, have all filed lawsuits against DOL. The final DOL regulation “unfairly targets certain types of fixed annuity products, making it harder for Americans to purchase fixed indexed annuities when it is in their best interest to do so,” said Jim Poolman, IALC’s executive director, adding that the “legal challenge is necessary because the rule creates an unworkable standard for independent agents and insurance companies and goes far beyond DOL’s authority.”

According to Beacon Research, strong quarterly sales were once again largely supported by robust sales of fixed indexed annuities.

Fixed indexed annuity sales reached their second highest quarterly sales mark on record, totaling $15.6 billion in the first quarter of 2016. This represents a 34.9% increase from the first quarter of 2015, but a 2.8% decrease from record sales of $16.1 billion in the prior quarter. “Fixed annuity sales have increased for the fourth straight quarter,” said Beacon CEO Jeremy Alexander, in a statement. On a year-over-year basis, he said, “sales are up 47.2% or $9.8 billion, and 71% of that increase occurred in the bank and broker-dealer channels, which have been the primary drivers of fixed annuity growth since early 2011.”

Q1 Annuity Sales by Product Type. Source: IRI, Beacon Research

According to Morningstar, variable annuity net assets increased slightly in the first quarter of 2016, reaching $1.87 trillion, representing a 0.2% increase from the end of the fourth quarter of 2015. Within the variable annuity market, there were $18.3 billion in qualified sales and $7.7 billion in nonqualified sales during the first quarter of 2016.

Sales of market value adjusted (MVA) annuities – a type of fixed-rate annuity – soared during the first quarter.

Sales of MVA annuities reached $5.3 billion during the first quarter of 2015, a 163.9% increase from sales of $2 billion in the first quarter of 2015 and a 66.5 percent increase from sales of $3.2 billion in the previous quarter.

For the entire fixed annuity market, there were approximately $17.5 billion in qualified sales and $13.2 billion in nonqualified sales during the first quarter of 2016.

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