A street sign on Wall Street (Photo: Allison Bell/TA)

Turmoil in Washington hit U.S. insurance and health stocks hard today.

The New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq observed Christmas Eve by ending trading at 1 p.m. Eastern Time. The S&P 500 stock index fell 2.71%, to 2,351.10. The index is  down 7.65% for the week, and it’s down 12.06% for the year to date.

The S&P 1500 Life & Health Insurance Sub-Industry Index fell 1.84% today, to 389.30. The index has fallen 4.95% this week, and 27.21% so far this year.

(Related: Mnuchin Bid to Calm Markets Risks Making Bad Situation )Worse

Here’s what happened to the stock prices of some large life and health companies:

  • Aflac (NYSE:AFL): $42.33 (Down 2.08%)
  • Anthem (NYSE:ANTM): $249 (Down 1.18%)
  • Brighthouse Financial (Nasdaq:BHF): $29.07 (Down 2.12%)
  • Cigna (NYSE:CI): $178.01 (Down 1.81%)
  • AXA Equitable (NYSE:EQH): $14.91 (Down 2.61%)
  • Lincoln Financial (NYSE:LNC): $48.79 (Down 1.11%)
  • MetLife (NYSE:MET): $38.24 (Down 1.01%)
  • Prudential Financial (NYSE:PRU): $76.83 (Down 2.06%)
  • UnitedHealth (NYSE:UNH): $232.94 (Down 2.27%)
  • Unum (NYSE:UNM): $27.24 (Down 3.16%)

The White House

Analysts are saying that the sources of market pressure appear to include ordinary year-end profit-taking and portfolio reallocations, the effects of the trade dispute with China, the looming shift in the U.S. strategy in Syria, uncertainty about the United Kingdom’s pending exit from the European Union, concerns about covert efforts by other countries to influence U.S. policy, the partial federal government shutdown, and the president’s criticisms of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell.

The president today sent the following tweet about Powell:

“The only problem our economy has is the Fed. They don’t have a feel for the Market, they don’t understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars or even Democrat Shutdowns over Borders,” Trump said in a tweet Monday. “The Fed is like a powerful golfer who can’t score because he has no touch – he can’t putt!”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin

The U.S. Treasury Department announced through a tweet Sunday that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had talked to the heads of six big banks, to verify that they had the liquidity to operate normally despite the market turmoil.

Mnuchin today organized a call with the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, to find out what top U.S. financial regulators have been seeing. The regulators told Mnuchin that they are seeing nothing out of the ordinary in the markets, according to an anonymous source quoted by Bloomberg.

The working group was created as a response to the 1987 stock market crash and is separate from the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC). Congress created FSOC in the Dodd-Frank Act, in response to the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

The working group team includes officials from the Fed, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

The Treasury Department can operate normally despite the partial government shutdown, but the shutdown will affect SEC and CFTC operations, according to Bloomberg.

The working group does not include a representative from the insurance industry. Mnuchin himself may get information about the state of the insurance industry from the Treasury Department’s Federal Insurance Office.

Why This Could Matter to Agents

Moderate investment market volatility may make variable-return life and annuity products with return guarantees much more attractive to consumers without affecting insurers’ ability to write the products.

Severe volatility could reduce life insurers’ interest in offering products with return guarantees.

Drops in the prices of life and health insurers’ own shares could reduce the insurers’ ability to use the stock to pay for big acquisitions. That could either reduce the number of corporate deals involving life and health insurers or reduce the prices owners of acquired companies get for the deals that do get done.

—With information from Mike Dorning, Ben Bain, Andrew Mayeda and Saleha Mohsin of Bloomberg.

— Read Prudential Sheds ‘Too-Big-to-Fail’ Label, But…on ThinkAdvisor.

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