Fitch Ratings downgrades MetLife's Brighthouse Financial unit

A MetLife Inc  building is shown in Irvine, California, U.S., January 24, 2017.   REUTERS/Mike Blake

US-METLIFE-BRIGHTHOUSE-RATINGS:Fitch Ratings downgrades MetLife's Brighthouse Financial unit

By Suzanne Barlyn

(Reuters) - Fitch Ratings Inc downgraded MetLife Inc's Brighthouse Financial Inc unit on Wednesday, citing the unit's lowering of its capitalization and financial targets from last year.

Fitch, which downgraded Brighthouse Life Insurance Company one notch, from an A+ to an A, said its ratings outlook remains stable.

A MetLife spokesman directed Reuters to a Brighthouse Financial spokeswoman, who declined to comment.

Brighthouse Financial Inc is a holding company and the consumer life insurance and annuity unit created by MetLife Inc.

MetLife announced last year that it planned to spin off its Brighthouse business, which sells life insurance and annuities to individuals. MetLife, which is still awaiting regulatory approval for the move, will continue to focus on its U.S. employee benefits and overseas businesses, the company has said.

Fitch's rating for Brighthouse Life Insurance Company, a Brighthouse Financial unit, is still strong, but more accurately reflects the insurer's change in targets, said Fitch analyst Bradley Ellis.

"When we originally assigned the ratings in October, we anticipated more stability in some of these capitalization metrics because of the projections they provided," Ellis told Reuters.

Fitch is especially concerned about the "funding of assets in support the company's variable annuity business, consolidated financial leverage and the overall levels of statutory capital," the company said.

The ratings firm also wants to see some changes at Brighthouse to reflect its strength as a standalone company, Ellis said. "We'd like to see a track record of more stability," he said.

(Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn; Editing by Bill Trott and Lisa Shumaker)

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