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.
The ramifications of a weakened life-insurance industry for the overall economy are significant. Life insurers are among the biggest holders of the nation's corporate debt. Together, they own about 18% of all corporate bonds outstanding, according to the American Council of Life Insurers, or ACLI, an industry trade group.
If life insurers stop buying bonds, the capital markets may not fully recover. In the fourth quarter of 2008, life insurers agreed to buy $3.3 billion in stocks and bonds through private transactions, down 63% from the previous quarter, according to a survey by the ACLI. Insurers have been putting more cash into safe havens such as Treasury bonds.
If they had Investment banks as counterparties, our Government would be falling over each other, giving them money!
And now these insurers have learned from AIG. Threaten systemic problems if they don't get the money. We won't buy bonds!
But where's the 401K bailout?