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Insurers’ fears grow as they await a bailout


Months after several insurers applied for funds from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), they still are waiting to see whether they will receive a bailout, putting many in a tenuous position, Bloomberg reported.

Among the biggest threats for life insurers is a wave of customer withdrawal requests that they would not be able to fulfill with cash reserves.

Principal Financial Group Inc. told investors in its February annual report that it may not have the funds to pay all customers who wish to redeem their policies if the economic downturn continues. Morgan Stanley analyst Nigel Dally included the Des Moines-based company on a list of insurers most vulnerable to a run. Principal has sought up to $2 billion from the TARP fund.

The potential run list also included Lincoln National Corp., which said March 27 that it has “adequate internal cash resources and a $1 billion line of credit.”

Other insurers’ losses also have raised concerns. Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. reported a $2.7 billion net loss last year, and on March 30, Moody’s Investors Service cut its credit rating to the lowest investment grade of Baa3. MetLife Inc. reported $14 billion in unrealized losses on corporate debt, which has led to concerns that losses could deplete the insurer’s $5 billion in excess capital.

To qualify for TARP, insurers without banking operations were told to buy banking or savings and loan companies, which has led to some takeovers. However, the federal government’s delay in approving the bailout funding has soured at least one deal. The Bank of Bonifay’s parent company backed out of a deal that would have allowed Protective Life Corp. to acquire the company, citing the Treasury Department’s inaction.

It’s becoming more unlikely that the dozens of insurers who applied for TARP money will actually receive aid after American International Group Inc.’s latest $182.5 billion rescue and controversy over its employee bonuses angered Congress. Private investors may be reluctant to step in as well after the S&P Supercomposite Life & Health Insurance Index tumbled 44 percent his year.

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