The European Central Bank’s bond-buying program may lead insurers to load up on riskier assets at the expense of financial stability, analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein said.
Quantitative easing “might accelerate the making of another credit bubble, this time driven by insurance companies,” analysts including Thomas Seidl in London wrote in a note to clients Wednesday. “As insurance companies with about 9 trillion euros ($10.3 trillion) assets are the largest institutional investor in Europe, this might result in wider repercussions.”
The ECB program may lead to lower yields on sovereign bonds, eroding earnings from fixed-income investments, historically the dominant asset class among insurers’ investments. As insurance companies rely on returns from investments to pay policyholders, they may opt for riskier assets, such as corporate bonds and high-yield loans, emerging- markets debt and asset-backed securities.
Accepting more investment risk “will dominate management response to QE,” the analysts wrote. “We think this bubble will continue to grow until either regulators step in, investors get too concerned and penalize these practices, or impairments start to surface as the credit risk will eventually materialize.”
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