Volatility in the stock market causes concern and a longing for safety. Investors with an appetite for risk, and investors who are more risk averse but still interested in a steady streams of payments, have turned to larger insurers like New York-based MetLife (NYSE:MET). Let's take a look at how the flight to safety has benefitted insurers who offer annuity contracts with the promise of pension-like periodic payments in the future.
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To Annuitize or Not
The debate over the benefits versus the often complex stigma associated with annuities is ongoing, but there has been more news lately concerning the value annuities can have in an investor's portfolio. (For a quick refresher, check out An Overview Of Annuities.)
According to information gathered in the Beacon Research Fixed Annuity Premium Study, sales of fixed annuities were up 78% above the same quarter one year ago, extending its fourth consecutive quarterly record performance.
Taking Notice of Year to Date Returns
Along with MetLife other publicly traded insurance companies represented among the top ten for fixed annuity sales in the Beacon Research study included RiverSource Life (NYSE:AMP) whose products are offered by affiliates of Ameriprise Financial Services, AEGON/Transamerica Companies (NYSE:AEG), AIG Annuity Insurance Co (NYSE:AIG) and Principal Financial Group (NYSE:PFG).
Among the insurers mentioned, the common stock of AIG is the only one that has fallen into negative territory since the beginning of the year through August 14. AEG and AMP have both risen over 20% respectively ahead of MetLife's 4% stock price increase. (For related reading, see Exploring Types Of Fixed Annuities.)
The Case for MetLife
At the end of July MetLife did report a second-quarter net loss of $1.4 billion or $1.74 per share, but MetLife also reported $5.5 billion in U.S. annuity deposits with a record $4.5 billion flowing into variable annuity deposits.
MetLife's book value per share also increased 18% to $30.60, just below its August 14 closing price of $36.40. MetLife revenues, which are largely driven by premiums, actually increased for the first six months of 2009 versus the prior year, but investment losses tied to derivatives used to hedge its exposure to interest rate and foreign currency fluctuations pushed net revenue down to $18.5 billion from $23.7 billion.
The Bottom Line
Gold and the U.S. dollar may lead a discussion when a flight to quality conversation begins, but individual investors should also keep in mind insurers who offer products that look much more attractive to investors after major stock market corrections. (For further reading, check out Annuitites: How To Find The Right One For You.)
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