Persistently low fixed-income rates will force changes in the insurance industry this year as large companies exit the bond market to search for higher yields in exchange-traded funds, emerging markets and illiquid assets such as infrastructure projects, says a BlackRock report released Thursday.

Insurers are likely to move their asset allocations as low rates challenge business models and profitability, according to BlackRock's global insurance industry outlook, 2013: The Year Ahead. Putting the blame on central banks' easy monetary policy around the world, the report says interest rate risk is increasing significantly and putting pressure on insurance companies' asset portfolios.

"This is a crucial time for insurers as persistently low interest rates will challenge their income prospects and stress their business models," said David Lomas, head of the Financial Institutions Group within BlackRock's Institutional business, in a statement. "We expect them to embrace new ways of achieving profitability to meet the increasingly complex challenges of the global investment environment and the post-crisis regulatory regime."

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