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Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues

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Kenan Institute 2022 Annual Theme: Stakeholder Capitalism
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Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues

insurance

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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.

Theoretically, wealthier people should buy less insurance, and should self-insure through saving instead, as insurance entails monitoring costs. Here, we use administrative data for 63,000 individuals and, contrary to theory, find that the wealthier have better life and property insurance coverage.

Theoretically, wealthier people should buy less insurance, and should self-insure through saving instead, as insurance entails monitoring costs. Here, we use administrative data for 63,000 individuals and, contrary to theory, find that those with more wealth have better life and property insurance coverage, controlling for the value of the assets insured.

Accounting rules, through their interactions with capital regulations, affect financial institutions’ trading behavior. The insurance industry provides a laboratory to explore these interactions: life insurers have greater flexibility than property and casualty insurers to hold speculative-grade assets at historical cost, and the degree to which life insurers recognize market values differs across U.S. states. During the financial crisis, insurers facing a lesser degree of market value recognition are less likely to sell downgraded asset-backed securities. To improve their capital positions, these insurers disproportionately resort to gains trading, selectively selling otherwise unrelated bonds with high unrealized gains, transmitting shocks across markets.

This paper investigates fire sales of downgraded corporate bonds induced by regulatory constraints imposed on insurance companies. As insurance companies hold over one-third of investment-grade corporate bonds, the collective need to divest downgraded issues may be limited by a scarcity of counterparties. Using insurance company transaction data, we find that insurance companies that are relatively more constrained by regulation are more likely to sell downgraded bonds. Bonds subject to a high probability of regulatory-induced selling exhibit price declines and subsequent reversals. These price effects appear larger during periods when the insurance industry is relatively distressed and other potential buyers' capital is scarce.