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The Cost of Financial Frictions for Life Insurers

Staff Report 500 | Published November 14, 2014

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The Cost of Financial Frictions for Life Insurers


During the financial crisis, life insurers sold long-term policies at deep discounts relative to actuarial value. The average markup was as low as −19 percent for annuities and −57 percent for life insurance. This extraordinary pricing behavior was due to financial and product market frictions, interacting with statutory reserve regulation that allowed life insurers to record far less than a dollar of reserve per dollar of future insurance liability. We identify the shadow cost of capital through exogenous variation in required reserves across different types of policies. The shadow cost was $0.96 per dollar of statutory capital for the average company in November 2008.

Published in: _American Economic Review_ (Vol. 105, No. 1, January 2015, pp. 445-475)