The nation’s eight major life insurance firms reported that the combined total of outstanding personal life insurance contracts in 1997 fell for the first time in some 50 years, according to fiscal 1997 earnings reports released Monday.

The total figure for the companies came to 1.21 quadrillion yen, a 2.4 percent decline from the fiscal 1996 figure. The total amount of all types of life insurance — which combines personal life insurance, individual annuity policies and group life insurance — was some 1.6 quadrillion yen, also the first year-on-year decrease in the postwar period.

Monday’s earnings figures indicate domestic insurance firms were hit hard by the sluggish stock market and low return rates on their investments. The levels of returns pulled down profits as insurers still hold a substantial number of contracts from the bubble economy that promise high yields.

The eight insurers also made public for the first time their solvency margin ratios, which serve as a benchmark to check the soundness of an insurer by measuring its vulnerability to risk.

The disclosure of the ratio became mandatory ahead of this year’s introduction of a system of prompt corrective action whereby authorities can call for insurance firms to improve management, depending on objective criteria such as the solvency-to-risk ratio.

Finance Ministry officials have indicated that a ratio above 200 percent will satisfy regulators. The ratios at all eight firms cleared this hurdle.

Such information disclosure has become increasingly necessary to help restore customer confidence in the security of life insurance policies after the failure of Nissan Mutual Life Insurance Co. in spring last year.

The total amount of potentially troublesome loans held by the eight insurers as of the end of the fiscal year came to 1.14 trillion yen under a new disclosure format similar to that used by the Securities and Exchange Commission of the United States.

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