Variable annuity sales declined 27% in the first quarter to $30.7 billion, compared with $41.9 billion in the first quarter of 2008, LIMRA announced.

Of the nine top carriers, only MetLife experienced an increase in sales; sales rose 17% to $3.74 billion.

“We love the variable annuity business,” said MetLife Chief Executive Officer Robert Henrikson. “The need for the product, both in terms of downside protection for the consumer and the increasing focus on need for retirement income is greater” now following the steep decline in stocks.

Sales of fixed annuities, on the other hand, rose 74% in the first quarter to $35.6 billion, the first time since 1995 that fixed annuities have outsold variable annuities for two straight quarters. Investors are “still leery of the volatile stock market and looking for secure, competitive guaranteed rates of return,” said Joe Montiminy, LIMRA research director.

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