Fixed annuity sales in the United States are soaring and even variable annuities didn't take as big of a hit as the S&P 500, according to reports on first-quarter sales of annuities.

U.S sales of fixed annuities were an estimated $34.9 billion in the first quarter of 2009, says the Beacon Research Fixed Annuity Premium Study. Overall, first quarter sales were 78% higher than those in the first quarter of 2008, and were up 2% from the last quarter of last year, based on 53 insurance companies that hold 86% of the market.

Both the first quarter this year and the last quarter of 2008 set sales records. All types of fixed annuities, including book value, indexed, market value adjusted and immediate, increased in sales. MetLife continues to hold the largest market share with New York Life and Aviva USA coming in next. Beacon Research is an independent financial research company.

The riskier variable annuities saw a decline, but not as drastic as might be expected, according to NAVA, the Association for Insured Retirement Solutions.

The combined net assets of U.S. variable annuities decreased 5.4% in the first quarter 2009 to slightly more than $1 trillion, at the same time the S&P 500 saw a decline of 11%, which, NAVA says, shows the value of diversified variable annuities in an otherwise chaotic market.

First-quarter variable annuity sales were $30.4 billion, down from $33.3 billion the previous quarter.

"The data is slightly better than we expected," says Cathy Weatherford, NAVA CEO. "We have been seeing optimism in our economy recently. Consumers should quickly turn to insured retirement solutions like variable annuities to dip their toes back in the financial waters."