Manulife, Allstate Units Vulnerable to Defaults

Some of the biggest life insurance companies might suffer as defaults rise on commercial mortgage-backed securities.
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Life insurance

units at

Allstate

(ALL) - Get Report

and

Manulife Financial

(MFC) - Get Report

held more risky mortgage assets than capital and reserves at the end of 2008, making them more vulnerable to loan defaults.

The credit quality of commercial mortgage-backed securities will likely decline this year as defaults rise and the real estate market deteriorates, a new report from Fitch Ratings says. The investment portfolios of the nation's largest

life insurance

companies might suffer as a result.

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The

life insurance

industry has $214 billion in commercial mortgage-backed securities, according to new data from SNL Financial, which tracks the portfolios of more than 800 life insurers. More than a third of that amount, or $86 billion, is invested in bonds rated A or less. The issuers of lower-rated bonds are more likely to default, Fitch says.

Fifteen of the top 20 life insurers had more commercial mortgage-backed securities than capital and reserves. Four of those companies held more of the riskier bonds, the ones rated A or less. They were Allstate Life Insurance; Manulife's John Hancock Life Insurance; Genworth Life Insurance, part of

Genworth Financial

(GNW) - Get Report

; and Hartford Life Insurance, a unit of

Hartford Financial Services

(HIG) - Get Report

.

Prudential Insurance Company of America, the largest insurance unit of

Prudential Financial

(PRU) - Get Report

, is the largest holder of commercial mortgage-backed securities with $11.7 billion but almost all of that amount is invested in AA-rated or AAA-rated bonds.

The table below shows the life insurers with the largest holdings of commercial mortgage-backed securities. It compares those holdings to capital and reserves reflecting the amount of capital potentially at risk from increased impairments, or lost value from bond defaults.

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This article has been corrected. Previously, it stated that a unit of Allianz held three times the amount of troubled mortgage-backed securities than it had in capital and reserves. The statement was based on information Allianz had provided to SNL Financial. Allianz has since corrected the data.

Melissa Gannon is director of insurance and bank ratings for TheStreet.com Ratings, formerly Weiss Ratings, where she directs the operations of the company's insurance and bank ratings division.

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