Active management of crediting rates on spread-based business, improved fee income driven by growth in assets, ongoing expense management, favorable investment results and selected acquisitions are all driving modest earnings improvement in 2012 for U.S. life insurers, according to Fitch Ratings.

Average adjusted operating return on assets for a sample group of companies improved to .97 percent in 2012 from .88 percent in 2011. The improvement is based on annualized first quarter results, which benefited in part from a 12-percent increase in the S&P 500 index. Given the second-quarter decline in the equity markets and no let up in the other pressures, Fitch anticipates a more modest improvement in full-year results than first-quarter results would indicate.

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