The insurance industry in a perfect (negative) storm...only port is the Government.
The Next Big Bailout Decision: Insurers
By SCOTT PATTERSON and LESLIE SCISM
The tumbling financial markets are dragging down the life-insurance industry, an important cog in the U.S. economy, as mounting losses weaken the companies' capital and erode investor confidence.
A dozen life insurers have pending applications for aid from the government's $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, and the industry is expecting an answer to its request for a bank-style bailout in the coming weeks. The government so far hasn't said whether insurers will be eligible for the program.
Life insurers have taken a beating in recent weeks. The Dow Jones Wilshire U.S. Life Insurance Index has fallen 59% since the beginning of the year, leaving it down 82% since its May 2007 all-time high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has lost 21% year to date, off 51% since its October 2007 record.
Some of the hardest-hit companies are century-old names that insure the lives of millions of Americans. Shares of Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., which already received a capital injection from German insurer Allianz, are down 93% as of Wednesday's close from their 52-week high. MetLife Inc. and Prudential Financial Inc. are both suffering as the value of their vast investment portfolios declines.
Some life insurers are faring better than others, and some of the nation's giants retain triple-A ratings, including Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., New York Life Insurance Co., Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. and TIAA-CREF.
But as the economy buckles, analysts say many insurers face losses that can eat away at the capital cushions regulators require them to maintain.
Long-time experts say the industry is going through its most tumultuous period in recent memory. "It's a pretty scary scenario right now," said Pete Larson, an analyst at Gradient Analytics, a Scottsdale, Ariz., research group.
Life insurers have been taking a beating in recent weeks. The Dow Jones Wilshire U.S. Life Insurance Index has fallen 59% since the beginning of the year, leaving it down 82% since its May 2007 record high.
Ratings agencies and stock investors are growing concerned about how long the industry can avoid reckoning with the distressed assets on their books. Rating agencies Moody's Investors Service, Standard & Poor's and A.M. Best have cut the ratings of more than a dozen insurers in recent weeks.