Alternative Investment

US life insurer investment portfolios to withstand market volatility: Fitch

Analysts at Fitch Ratings have stated that rising rates have been largely favourable for US life insurer investment portfolios, driving higher investment income as reinvestment rates exceed book yields.

fitch-ratings-logoThe rising rates have played a large role in helping to mitigate macroeconomic headwinds, market volatility and the heightened probability of mild recession in 2023.

At the same time, continued macroeconomic volatility and mounting recessionary pressures will challenge market-based returns, eroding variable-rate investment income and fee-based income.

Fitch noted that impairments are expected to rise modestly in 2023, but losses should “remain benign” across most asset classes.

“Credit fundamentals remain strong, with interest coverage and leverage at pre-pandemic levels, though market volatility is substantial, and the industry has material unrealized loss positions on fixed-income portfolios.”

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Meanwhile, insurers continued to increase exposure to less liquid, more esoteric asset classes such as private placements and commercial mortgage loans in search of yield and to capture illiquidity premiums during persistently low-rate environments, while maintaining 94% investment grade portfolios.

Analysts highlighted how liquidity in credit markets initially declined during the COVID-19 pandemic as default expectations rose, widening credit spreads and resulting in opportunistic purchases.

Furthermore, Fitch stated that alternative investment income is expected to continue to normalize from record results in 2021.

The increasing role of alternative investment managers in the life insurance industry has been largely neutral for insurers.

However, Fitch warns that the combination of regulatory/accounting changes and challenging macroeconomic conditions are driving major shifts in product strategies, with changes in the competitive landscape that may have longer-term credit implications for the industry.

Buying opportunities amid market volatility will depend in part on the asset class, product structure, and yield curve positioning.

Fitch noted that insurers have been focusing on liquidity and capital, often buying into higher-quality asset portfolios amid increasing recessionary pressures.

Lastly, Fitch concludes that the favorable upgrade/downgrade ratio of investment opportunities since 2021 is expected to normalize into 2023.

“Real assets that traditionally offer inflation hedges such as residential and commercial real estate could be less effective, given higher financing costs, but this could moderate if interest rates stabilize.

“Distressed commercial properties may see material market devaluations, including in commercial properties in central business districts in major metropolitan cities.”

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