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This is the 4th in a series of articles on stock sectors that have struggled to recover from the levels prior to the financial crisis. (See the first three here: 1, 2, 3)

This article focuses on the life insurance and retirement financial services sector. As in most sectors, these companies don't have the exact same business models making broad comparisons an initial step of research.

When initially drilling down into the insurance sector it was interesting to find that some competitors that focus more on the property and casualty sector of insurance have already recovered to above the pre-financial crisis levels. Both Travelers Companies (NYSE:TRV) and Chubb Corporation (NYSE:CB) recently hit all time highs while Allstate (NYSE:ALL) and Hartford Financial Services (NYSE:HIG) are trading significantly below 2006/2007 highs even though the companies both compete in the property and casualty sectors as well.

Unlike the other sectors that I've covered, these companies have dividend yield support and trade at book values below 1. HIG even trades as low as 0.6x book value making the valuation argument a lot more compelling in this sector.

Below are five companies in this sector that are down anywhere from 42% to 76% from the highs in most cases seen in May 2007 or over four years ago. From a valuation basis, most of these stocks appear cheap trading below book value and 10x earnings. What will it take for the market to return to this sector?

Allstate - engages in the personal property and casualty insurance, life insurance, retirement, and investment products business. ALL has a market cap of $15.5B with revenue estimated at nearly $26B. The stock originally peaked at $65 on November 22, 2006 and now trades just below $30. Stock is down 54% from the highs.

Hartford Financial Services - provides insurance and financial services in the Property & Casual, Group Benefits, and Life Insurance segments. HIG has a market cap of $11B with estimated 2011 revenue of $23.7B. Stock peaked at $106.23 on May 22, 2007 and currently trades below $25. Stock is down 76% from those highs and would have to more than triple to reach new highs.

Lincoln National Corp (NYSE:LNC) - engages in multiple insurance and retirement businesses mainly focusing on annuities and life insurance. LNC has a $8.5B market cap with revenue estimated at $11B. Stock peaked at $74.72 on May 15, 2007 and currently trades at $27. Stock is down 64%.

MetLife (NYSE:MET) - provides insurance, annuities, and employee benefit programs. MET has a market cap of $43.7B with estimated revenue of nearly $65B. Stock peaked at $71.23 on October 5, 2007 and currently trades at $41. Stock is down 42%.

Prudential (NYSE:PRU) - offers various financial products and services including retirement solutions and individual life and group insurance. PRU has a market cap of $29.7B and revenue estimated at $38B. Stock peaked at $103.27 on May 22, 2007 and currently trades at $60. Stock is down 42%.

Source: Life Insurance Stocks Trading Below Book Value