Alongside Barclays' Jay Gelb's upgrade of Lincoln Financial (LNC +2.3%) to Overweight is a downgrade of Reinsurance Group of America (RGA -0.3%) to Equal Weight and cut in the price target to $81 from $88, citing increased competition in the life reinsurance market.
For Lincoln, Gelb has boosted confidence in the company's ability to generate strong earnings growth despite the low interest rate environment.
His top picks in the sector remain Prudential (PRU +1.6%), MetLife (MET +0.8%), Aflac (AFL +1.5%), and Protective Life (PL +1.2%), and he has a "positive outlook" on AIG and Hartford Financial (HIG +1.4%).
"AFL has a top-tier ROE as well as robust share buybacks, and should benefit in 2015 from the Japan Post partnership," writes Gelb, noting yen weakness will hurt GAAP earnings, but the company has hedged profit repatriation back to the States. AIG and HIG, he says, "should deliver substantial share buybacks along with attractive valuations and ultimately higher ROEs."