Financial intermediaries often provide guarantees resembling out-of-the-money put options, exposing them to undiversifiable tail risk. We present a model in the context of the U.S. life insurance industry in which the regulatory framework incentivizes value-maximizing insurers to hedge variable annuity (VA) guarantees, though imperfectly, and shift risks into high-risk and illiquid bonds. We calibrate the model to insurer-level data and identify the VA-induced changes in insurers’ risk exposures. In the event of major asset and guarantee shocks and absent regulatory intervention, these shared exposures exacerbate system-wide fire sales to maintain capital ratios, plausibly erasing over half of insurers’ equity capital.
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