Most U.S. life and annuity issuers still look strong — but one headache they face is the possibility that the failure of a long-term care insurance (LTCI) issuer could conk them on the head.
Michael Fruchter, a vice president in the financial institutions group at Moody’s Investors Service Inc., and other Moody’s analysts take a new look at life and annuity issuer risk in a report on issuers’ vulnerability to “an adverse scenario.”
- A summary the Moody’s U.S. life insurers adverse scenario report
- Pennsylvania Puts LTCI Issuer in Rehabilitation
Rating agencies put out reports of that kind regularly. About a year ago, they started to analyze how vulnerable life and annuity issuers might be to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The analysts at Moody’s and other agencies predicted, correctly, that the kinds of large U.S. life insurers they rate were well-prepared for the possibility that COVID-19 could lead to a spark in life insurance claims, but that low interest rates could be hard on annuity earnings.
The new Moody’s report provides a similar kind of analysis, enriched with information about how life and annuity issuers have already performed in the face of COVID-19 deaths, pandemic-related social distancing rules, and low interest rates.
The analysts predict that, even in a severe scenario, extra death benefit payments would cause a temporary drop in earnings but less than a 10% hit to capital.
Here are three other new things Moody’s analysts are saying about the issuers’ stormproofing.
1. The gap between “book yield” and the “tabular interest rate” is something to watch.
Life insurers use huge investments in high-rated bonds, mortgages and mortgage-backed securities to support their long-term life and annuity benefits guarantee obligations.
The Federal Reserve Board and other central banking agencies around the world have made moves to hold down interest rates, in an effort to help homeowners and other borrowers with variable-rate debt stay afloat, and to try to keep the stock market humming along.
Efforts to keep rates low to help borrowers can eventually hurt life insurers, which usually act as lenders rather than as borrowers.
Low interest rates won’t hurt most life insurers’ capitalization levels immediately, but they will affect insurers’ capital levels over time, the analysts write in the new report.
The analysts say one indicator of “spread compression,” or the narrowing of the difference between what life insurers have promised to pay customers and what they can earn on their own investments, is the gap between “book yields” and “tabular interest rates.”