Sales of variable annuities increased 3% in the fourth quarter to $32.6 billion from the previous quarter, according to LIMRA’s U.S. Individual Annuities quarterly sales survey, in a quarter that saw overall annuity sales drop.

“The last time VA sales were at this level was in 2003, at the end of the last financial crisis,” LIMRA research director Joe Montminy said. “While we are seeing VAs slowly recover, the recovery is slower than expected.”

In the fourth quarter, overall annuity sales fell 2% to $53.3 billion from the previous quarter. This marked a 22% decline from a year earlier. Book value declined 10% from the third quarter and was 43% lower than the fourth quarter of 2008.

In the fourth quarter, fixed annuity sales declined 10% to $20.7 billion from the previous quarter and 40% from a year earlier, according to LIMRA's data, which was released Thursday. Indexed annuity sales fell 5% from the third quarter to $6.9 billion.

Overall, fixed annuities sales in 2009 rose 9% to $29.4 billion from a year earlier.