MetLife (MET - option chain) stock is trading lower today along with most other insurance companies this morning after the cost to insurers related to Friday's earthquake in Japan was estimated to be between $15 to $35 billion. Prudential Financial (PRU) and AIG (AIG) are also down so far in today's trading. Even if these insurance companies are actually on solid footing financially with regard to their expected claims, I expect investors could be frightened for several months to come, which could keep share prices depressed. If you think this stock won't be rising too far in the coming months, then it could be a good time to look at a bearish hedged play on MET.
Hartford Financial (HIG) is one of the largest providers of investment products, individual life, group life and group disability insurance products, as well as property and casualty insurance products in the U.S. In addition to the U.S., the company has operations in Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil and Ireland. Its main competitors include large insurers like MetLife (MET), Prudential (PRU) and AIG (AIG).
We have a price estimate of $23.68 on Hartford Financial's stock, which is about 20% below the current market price. We estimate that property and casualty insurance in the U.S. constitutes about 37% of the company's stock value.
MetLife reported a 36% increase in premiums, fees and other revenues from the insurance business outside of the U.S. in the year 2010, mainly due to the addition of about $836 million from ALICO's one month operations. MetLife acquired ALICO for about $15.5 billion from AIG as a part of its strategy to grow internationally. The acquisition has enabled MetLife to serve 90 million customers in over 60 countries and has significantly boosted MetLife's position as a leading insurance company in the U.S, Japan, Latin America, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.
Generally, I avoid stocks already above $50 -- but there are exceptions. Prudential Financial Inc. (PRU) is one of these, and it's worth a review.
Prudential has weathered the recession and is now set to post impressive earnings growth in 2011 and 2012.
A strong variable annuity business is likely to be complemented by double-digit earnings growth in asset management: The company currently manages about $641 billion in assets. Meanwhile, PRU's insurance unit will recover more slowly, due to sub-par life and disability margins.
- Citigroup upgraded Lubrizol (LZ) to Hold from Sell following the company's analyst day citing its continued pricing power in lubricants. Citi upped its target price for shares to $115 from $82.
- Janney Montgomery upgraded Viacom (VIA) to Buy from Neutral citing the company's ratings improvement, 2011 film slate, and video game pipeline. The firm has a $45 price target for shares.
- BMO Capital resumed coverage on Gammon Gold (GRS) with an Outperform from a Market Perform following the its equity issue. The firm has a $12.50 price target on the stock.
- Comerica (CMA) and First Horizon (FHN) were upgraded to Buy from Hold at Deutsche Bank.
- Prudential (PRU) was upgraded to Equal Weight from Underweight at Barclays.
- Itron (ITRI) was upgraded to Hold from Sell at Stifel Nicolaus.
PRU opened this morning at $57.58. So far today the stock has hit a low of $56.69 and a high of $57.58. As of 12:20, PRU is trading at $57.02 up $1.22 (2.2%). The chart for PRU looks neutral and S&P gives PRU a very bullish 5 STARS (out of 5) strong buy ranking.
In case you need to be reminded to look closely at the books, today's poster boy for erroneous ledgers, Bernie Maddoff, should be a constant reminder. Furthermore, when you are looking at the books, remember that Benjamin Graham, mentor to "my pal Warren," advised buying stocks for less than their intrinsic value. And book value is the starting point in attempting to establish that.
Two weeks ago, I posted an update on my toxic stock picks. These were six unloved stocks where I felt the stage was set for market beating returns. The same is true again for today's market-beating group, although it is not the headlines that tied this group together, but their standout bargain metrics.