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Interest rates keep up squeeze on Asia-Pacific insurers: S&P

Asia-Pacific life insurers’ investment income will face pressure from prevailing low interest rates, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) says.

Worries over a looming slowdown prompted China to cut benchmark interest rates in October – its sixth drop in less than a year – to record lows in a bid to prop up growth.

“Under the current low interest rate and volatile investment market environment in Asia, life insurers’ investment performances remain under pressure, although bottom-line profits are generally in line with our expectations,” S&P says.

“Volatility in investment markets remains and may contribute to performance deterioration for some insurers.” 

The credit trend for life insurers in the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, remains stable, and industry growth is poised to outpace economic growth next year.

Worries about the slowing Chinese economy will not cloud the region’s growth prospects, the ratings agency says.

“Premium growth could maintain in the low double-digit level in emerging Asia, including China, outpacing most global markets.

“The region’s low insurance penetration rates relative to more mature markets in North America and Europe, and its booming middle class, should support demand.”

Demand for cover related to annuities, medical and pension risks are expected to fuel the take-up of insurance in developing Asian economies.

In southeast Asia, strong domestic consumption will offset any fallout from a Chinese slowdown. 

Japanese insurers’ continued push into foreign markets and diversification into new products will lift the sector to single-digit growth.

“Japan will likely lift modestly in the low single digits, benefitting from insurers’ diversification into new products, channels and overseas expansion,” S&P says. 

“Its life sector should rise slowly from third-sector sales and annuities as the population ages and declines.”

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