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Fitch: US life insurer leverage ratio largely unchanged in 2016

The financial leverage ratio for U.S. publicly traded life insurers was largely unchanged in 2016, while their Canadian counterparts experienced a modest increase in financial leverage on an annual basis, according to a report from Fitch Ratings.

Fitch Ratings said June 2 that the financial leverage ratio for U.S. publicly traded life insurers remained relatively flat in 2016 at 26.2%, as about 40% of U.S.-based life insurers examined in the report saw a decline in the measure. Among U.S. publicly traded life insurers, Principal Financial Group Inc. and Prudential Financial Inc. saw the sharpest declines in financial leverage, Fitch Ratings said.

Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings said the financial leverage ratio among Canadian life insurance companies ticked up to 21% in 2016, as three large insurers representing about two-thirds of the market saw an increase on a year-over-year basis. Life insurance companies in Canada typically have lower financial leverage than their U.S. counterparts due in part to a preference among Canadian life insurers to use larger amounts of preferred debt in their capital structure, according to Fitch Ratings.

Moving forward, U.S. life insurers could look to strengthen their capital base or prefund upcoming maturities in the current low-interest-rate environment, Fitch Ratings Managing Director Douglas Meyer said.