Treasury OKs taxpayer bailout money for insurers

The Treasury Department plans to extend bailout loans beyond banks and automakers to six of the nation's largest life insurance companies.

The government granted preliminary approval to Prudential pru, Lincoln Nationallnc, Allstateall, Principal Financialpfg, Hartford Financial hig and Ameripriseamp for capital infusions under the so-called Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, said Andrew Williams, a Treasury spokesman.

Hartford Financial says it expects to receive $3.4 billion.

Lincoln National says it has been initially cleared for a $2.5 billion injection.

The total capital injection into the six companies will be less than $22 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a person familiar with the situation.

Insurers that applied by the program's deadline of Nov. 14, 2008, and have bank-holding company status, were eligible for government funds. Hundreds of other financial institutions that applied "will be reviewed and funded as appropriate," Williams said.

The government has already extended taxpayer loans to banks and automakers. Its latest round of aid will boost an industry that faces declining capital levels and ballooning investment losses. Some life insurers have also grappled with insurance contracts, such as annuities, that guarantee annual sums to consumers despite companies' worsening financial condition.

Not all insurers want the money, however. MetLife met, in April, said that it does not need government aid, providing a welcome sign to investors of its financial stability. The property-casualty industry, which sells auto and homeowners insurance, has also said it doesn't need bailout funds.

The government's aid to life insurers "helps ensure the recovery effort is broad and covers all aspects of the economy," said Steve Bartlett, president of the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents insurers and banks.

In general, the TARP program should be expanded to as many areas of the financial industry as possible, Bartlett says.

Life insurers applied for taxpayer loans last year, hoping for quick relief. The government deliberated on the industry's applications for six months, approving them only after it had completed the bank stress tests. Life insurers own 18% of corporate bonds, so the government's investment could help revitalize the credit markets, an oft-stated goal of the financial rescue plan. It could also restore confidence to the 75 million families with policies issued by the life insurance industry.

In return for the taxpayer money, life insurers will have to abide by a range of restrictions, including limits on executive pay.