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New annuity sales figures from the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI) suggest that life insurers may have already started battening down the annuity hatches in the fourth quarter of 2019, before the COVID-19 storm started.

Issuers let sales of fixed annuities fall 23% between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the latest quarter, to $28 billion.

Issuers instead focused on increasing sales of structured annuity contracts, which give the contract holder a limited amount of protection against poor market performance. Sales of structured annuities soared 48%, to $5.2 billion.

Thanks to the strong performance of structured variable annuities, overall variable annuity sales increased 7.4%, to $26 billion.

IRI gets its variable annuity data from Morningstar Inc. and its fixed annuity data, including data for indexed annuities filed as non-variable products, from Beacon Annuity Solutions.

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The Washington-based retirement income group says non-variable indexed annuity sales fell 18%, to $16 billion.

Sales of variable annuities other than structured annuities inched up 0.5%, to $21 billion.

Only $376 billion of the $2 trillion in variable annuity assets was in money market funds or fixed accounts.

About $635 billion was in stock funds, and $828 billion was in allocation funds.

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