Sales of annuities in the first quarter of 2012 hit $54.8 billion, down 8% from the year-ago quarter, according to LIMRA, a research, consulting and professional development organization.

Variable annuities, which for the last two years have driven sales, declined 7% from the year-ago period to $36.8 billion. Demand for guaranteed living benefit riders, however, remained strong, with election rates of 90%, LIMRA said.

Fixed annuities also had a rough quarter with sales totaling $18 billion, off 10% from the year-ago period.

Indexed annuities were a bright spot, hitting $8.1 billion, up 14% from the first quarter of 2011. LIMRA attributes the jump in sales to growing demand for lifetime withdrawal benefit riders, which offer the ability to receive lifetime income without requiring owners to annuitize their contracts. In the first quarter of 2012, two out of three indexed annuity buyers elected these riders, LIMRA said.

Fixed immediate annuity sales were relatively flat in the first quarter, totaling $1.8 billion.

Allianz Life of North America led sales of fixed annuities in the first quarter, selling $1.48 billion worth of the product. AVIVA and New York Life came in second and third, with $1.18 billion and $1.17 billion in sales, respectively.

In variable annuities, Prudential Annuities led the charge, racking up $4.94 billion in sales.  In second and third place were MetLife and Jackson National Life, which sold $4.93 billion and $4.38 billion in annuities, respectively.