The Life Insurance Dividend Season (Continued)

In an earlier entry, we reported on the dividend declarations from two of the gold standard mutual insurance companies – Northwestern Mutual and Massachusetts Mutual. Both are very highly rated carriers, and have paid dividends each year for well over 100 years. However, like most insurance companies these days, both are feeling the effects of the historic low interest rate environment, and as a result, have reported lower dividend interest rates (DIR).

MassMutual’s reported DIR for 2018 is 6.40% – a drop from the 2017 rate of 6.70% (which was down from the 2016 DIR rate of 7.10%). Northwestern Mutual declared a 2018 dividend interest rate that dropped to 4.9% from the 2017 DIR rate of 5% (which was down from the 2016 DIR rate of 5.45%).

Since our last post, both New York Life and Guardian Life have reported their dividend interest rates.

New York Life reported a 2018 dividend payout of $1.78 billion, the largest in the history of the company and the 164th consecutive year of dividend payouts. The DIR rate for NY Life was 6.1% (which was down from their 2017 rate of 6.2%). In announcing the DIR drop, their first since 2012, New York Life referenced, “the continued historic low level of interest rates, which constrain our investment returns.”

Guardian Life, who has paid dividends each year since 1868, reported a $911 million dividend payout. The DIR for Guardian remained the same as it was in 2017- 5.85% (which was down from their 2016 rate of 6.05%).

So, for 2018, 3 of the 4 carriers mentioned lowered their DIR. It will take a while for portfolio returns to turn around for insurance carriers. Almost exactly 3 years ago we reported on the dividends for these same four carriers. In that entry, our visual was a battleship and the title referenced the fact that raising dividends is much like turning a battleship around. We featured a quote from the chairman of New York Life at the time, who noted, “The downward pressure on interest rates continues to be challenging for life insurers.”  In announcing the 2018 dividend, Roger Crandall, MassMutual Chairman, President and CEO, referenced the “backdrop of a prolonged low interest rate environment.” Not much has changed.

However, this week the Fed raised rates by a quarter of a percentage point to a range of 1.25 to 1.50 percent, its third rate hike this year, with its forecast of three additional rate increases in 2018 and 2019 unchanged.

Maybe by next year the battleship will really begin to turn around.

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