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Insurers claim bailout will cover losses
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Kai Ryssdal: The thing about the bank bailout, the TARP, is that it was only really about banks for the blink of an eye. Last fall the Treasury Department expanded its definition of who was eligible for a slice of the $700 billion pie. Life insurance companies were invited to apply because in some ways they’re more like banks than not. As in they too have some troubled assets on their books. Last night Treasury revealed six insurance companies are eligible for about $22 billion in taxpayer money. Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale is on the bailout beat today.
JOHN DIMSDALE: The six include some household names like Hartford Financial, Allstate, and Lincoln National. The two applying for money so far, Hartford and Lincoln, want $3.4 and $2.5 billion respectively. Insurance analyst Jeff Schuman at Keefe, Bruyette and Woods says all the companies on the list have vulnerable investment portfolios.
JEFF SCHUMAN: Those portfolios are generating a lot of credit losses. But in addition the life insurers have some business alliances that are generating a lot of losses as well. In particular, they’ve sold a lot of variable annuities with some guarantees that have played out well for customers but are pretty costly for the companies.
Schuman says insurance companies will also need the government money to cover commercial real-estate investment losses over the next two years.
Banks welcomed the expansion of the government bailout. Steve Bartlett is the president of the Financial Services Roundtable trade association. He says including life insurers will speed up the recovery.
STEVE BARTLETT: It’s not just the banks, but it’s the banks and the securities market and life insurance market. It’s all connected. And unless you build and shore up all the pieces of the foundation, then you end up with gaps and the economy will be slower to start.
The Treasury Department says the TARP fund has over $120 billion left in it, even after setting aside money for insurance companies. Some of the remaining funds come from banks that have already paid their money back.
In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.
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