OLD WICK, N.J. - Annuity sales last year were better than some analysts expected, despite the uncertainty caused by recent court decisions and legal challenges, one study found.

Fixed annuities were the big winners, having benefited from higher interest rates and shaky bond and stocks markets that drove many investors out of variable annuities.

Experts say the trend was mirrored in the bank channel, which last year saw sales of annuities skyrocket while mutual fund and variable annuity sales dropped.

The report, generated by A.M. Best Co., based here, showed that individual fixed annuity premiums and fund deposits grew 9.7%, to $79 billion, in 1994. Individual variable annuities reported a 2% drop in premium levels to $30.6 billion last year.

Among annuity underwriters, Hartford Life Insurance Co. had the biggest jump in sales, with a 429.9% increase in premiums from 1993. Of the top 10 underwriters, six reported drops in variable annuity premiums, though Nationwide Life Insurance Co. reported a 34.8% gain.

"Although 1994's fixed annuity results were excellent, the momentum could shift considerably to variable products in 1995 because of the stock market's strong performance and languishing fixed interest rates," said Roger Blease, manager of Best's policy reports.

- Compiled by William Plasencia

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