Annuities sold at a brisk pace in the second quarter, setting the stage for a record year of sales, according to the Insured Retirement Institute.

Nationwide, second-quarter sales rose 10%, to $60.4 billion, compared to the second quarter of 2010, the Washington, D.C.-based industry group reported. Second-quarter sales were also up 4% from the first quarter.

The result reflects a growing interest in insured retirement products as well as “the long-term confidence that investors are increasingly placing in these products,” IRI president and chief executive Cathy Weatherford said in a statement.

Fixed annuity sales rose more sharply than variable annuity sales between the first and second quarters of this year.

Fixed products posted $20.4 billion of sales, an increase of 7.9%. Yet year-to-year sales of fixed annuities were flat. That result, however, occurred against a backdrop of falling interest rates, noted Jeremy Alexander, president and CEO of Beacon Research, in Evanston, Ill.  Beacon tracks fixed and variable annuity sales.

Indeed, despite a continuing decline in rates, a flight to safety may result in a strong third quarter for fixed annuities, Alexander suggested.

Meanwhile, variable annuity sales rose 2% to $40 billion in the second quarter, according to IRI. That was a 15% increase over the second quarter of 2010.

The variable annuity trend brought sales levels to their highest level since the second quarter of 2008, noted Frank O'Connor, Morningstar Inc.’s director of insurance solutions. Heightened market volatility and continued concern about the direction of the economy “appear not to have dampened investor enthusiasm for guarantees," he said.

Morningstar provides data on variable annuities for IRI’s reports, and Beacon provides data on fixed annuities for the reports.