As uncertainty in the equity markets continued during the first quarter of 2001, sales of variable annuities declined.

First quarter sales fell 23.4 percent compared to the first quarter a year ago and 8.8 percent from the last quarter of 2000, according to preliminary data from VARDS/Info-One of Marietta, Ga.

VARDS/Info-One estimated variable annuity industry sales for this year's first quarter to be $27.95 billion compared to $36.52 billion during the first quarter last year and $30.64 billion for the last quarter of 2000.

Ninety percent of all variable annuity sales during the first quarter were captured by the top 25 companies, the VARDS/Info-One data showed. Of the top 10 sellers during the period, only one, Lincoln National Life of Fort Wayne, Ind., increased sales over the first quarter of 2000.

Lincoln, which ranked tenth among sellers during the final quarter of last year, moved into seventh place in the first quarter of 2001 by increasing sales 2.41 percent over the first quarter of 2000, from $1.15 billion to $1.17 billion.

"We are certainly happy with the results from the first quarter," said Bill Boscow, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Lincoln. "It signifies some positive momentum. One of our key strategic objectives is to return to top-five status in annuity sales within the next three years."

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