In our last report, we showed that in 2017, insurance companies increased their use of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) by a significant amount (37% year-over-year). In 2018, insurance companies continued to increase their use of ETFs and, in spite of a market correction in the Q4 2018, held ETF assets in line with long-term growth trends. Furthermore, in 2018, the industry also displayed a divergence in their investment patterns—with companies that had previously been slow to adopt ETFs increasing their usage, and other companies, which in the past had grown ETF usage rapidly, retrenching. A divestment from Smart Beta ETFs, in particular, caused a drag on the overall share ownership and AUM of insurance companies invested in ETFs. In our fourth annual analysis of ETF usage in insurance general accounts, we explore the changing dynamics and current usage of over 1900 companies in this market.
As of year-end 2018, U.S. insurance companies had USD 26.2 billion invested in ETFs. This represents a tiny fraction of the USD 3.4 trillion of ETF assets under management (AUM) and an even smaller portion of the USD 6.3 trillion in admitted assets of U.S. insurance companies. While ETF AUM steadily increased over the prior six years, in 2018, the AUM of ETFs in the industry declined for the first time since 2011. In 2018, U.S. insurance company ETF AUM decreased by 3% from the prior year. However, usage still showed a double-digit compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the 3-, 5-, and 10-year periods.
The last quarter of 2018 had marked downturn in the equity and fixed income markets. The S&P 500 dropped 14% in the 4th quarter; a week before year-end the S&P 500 was off 20%. On December 19th, 2018 the Federal Reserve increased the Fed Funds rate for a fourth and last time in 2018. And even though 10-year Treasury and corporate yields fell during the quarter, corporate spread increased by a larger amount in the Q4 2018. To test if market volatility in Q4 2018 depressed the year-end AUM numbers, we also looked at the number of shares held by insurance companies. Unlike AUM, the number of shares of ETFs used by insurance companies continued to increase in 2018.