Variable annuity assets reached an all-time record of $1.5 trillion in 2010, despite a total annuity sales decrease of 8.7%, according to the Insured Retirement Institute.

Fourth-quarter variable annuity sales were $37.6 billion, up 18% from $31.9 billion a year earlier. 

"Variable annuity assets reached record levels, definitively demonstrating to consumers the value and significance that this investment can play in their overall retirement savings strategy," said IRI President and CEO Cathy Weatherford.

Overall annuity sales in the fourth quarter were $54.3 billion, up 5.7% from $51.3 billion reported a year earlier. Sales for the full year, however, were down: $209 billion compared to $229 billion in 2009.

"The annuity industry ended 2010 on strong and secure footing, with fourth-quarter sales reaching the highest levels of the entire year," said Weatherford.

Fixed-annuity sales for the fourth quarter were $16.7 billion, down 14.3% from $19.5 billion for fourth quarter 2009. For the full year, fixed sales were $71.1 billion, down 31.2% from $104.2 billion in 2009.

Based in Washington D.C., the Insured Retirement Institute conducts research focusing on annuities, insured retirement strategies and retirement planning.