Variable annuities sales in 2011 climbed significantly in early 2011, continuing a trend begun last year, and reversing a slide that saw them fall from a high of $184 billion in 2007 to a low of $128 billion in 2009.

A new report released by LIMRA, an insurance-industry research organization based in Windsor, CT which tracks the annuity market, shows that fixed annuities, too, are finally showing a gain this year, after plunging from a high of $109 billion in 2008 to only $81 billion in 2010.

The LIMRA report shows variable annuity sales in the first quarter of 2011 to be up a whopping 24% over the same period last year. In the first quarter of this year alone, a total of $39.8 billion worth of variable annuities were sold--a pace that if it continues for the year would match or exceed the 2007 record.

That compares to a rise of just 5% for the 2011 first quarter over the first quarter of 2010 for fixed annuities. A total of $20.2 billion worth of fixed annuity products was sold in the first quarter of this year. Most of the gain in the fixed annuity category was the result of a 10% jump in sales of fixed-rate deferred products.

Total annuity sales of $60 billion for the quarter represented a gain of 16% over the first quarter of 2010.

The poorest performing category of annuities was indexed products, up just 1 percent this quarter at $7 billion in sales. While marginally higher than the figure for the first quarter of 2010, that was actually a drop from the prior quarter, when sales were more than $8 billion according the LIMRA.

Joseph Montminy, LIMRA assistant vice president, annuity research, said variable products benefited from the positive equity market trend. He says, Were hearing that more people are getting off the sidelines and putting money back into the equities market, and some of that money is going into variable annuities.

The top-selling variable annuity issuer for the first quarter of 2011 was Prudential Annuities, at $6.8 billion, followed by MetLife with $5.7 billion, Jackson National Life, with $4.6 billion, TIAA-CREF at $3.4 billion and Lincoln Financial Group at $2.3 billion.

On the fixed annuity side, the top seller for the first quarter of 2011 was AIG companies, at $2.7 billion, followed by New York Life at $2.0 billion, Allianz Life of North America at $1.6 billion, American Equity Investment Life at $1.3 billion and AVIVA at $870,000.