Sales of fixed annuities in the U.S. jumped 54% in the third quarter from the year-earlier period, and New York Life remained atop the sales leader board, according to a data from Beacon Research.

Total fixed annuity sales were an estimated $27.1 billion in the third quarter, 10% more than in the second quarter, which was the previous record. The total was the most since Evanston, Ill.-based Beacon Research began its study in 2003. The study was based on 51 insurance companies that comprise an estimated 87% of the market.

All told, fixed annuity sales during this year's first three quarters were an estimated $70.6 billion, or 50% greater than the same period in 2007.

The strong sales surge is attributed to a flight to quality from lousy equity markets, as well as low interest rates that made fixed-rate annuities competitive versus bank certificate of deposits and Treasuries, said Beacon Research CEO Jeremy Alexander. He added that strong sales are expected in the fourth quarter. "Risk-averse consumers continue to feel safe entrusting their money to the life insurance industry despite the well-publicized problems of some companies."

New York Life sold $2.5 billion in fixed annuities last quarter, followed by Aviva USA ($2 billion), AEGON/Transamerica ($1.8 billion), AIG Annuity Insurance ($1.7 billion) and Allianz Life ($1.4 billion). They were followed by Jackson National Life, Allstate Financial, Principal Financial Group and Genworth Financial.

The leading products sold were book value ($13.5 billion), indexed ($6.9 billion), market value-adjusted ($4.2 billion), and immediate ($2.4 billion).