"MetLife (MET) is one of the cheaper stocks in a sector that is, itself, cheap relative to the market," says Eric Hagemann, an analyst at Richard Pzena's Penza Investment Management (an owner of the shares). A check of price/book (excluding investment gains) finds Met at 1.1x - grouped with Hartford (HIG) at 0.9x and Lincoln Financial (LNC) at 1.1x - but well less than Prudential's (PRU) 1.6x.
Why the discount? Met is one of few remaining large financials not yet buying back any stock as it awaits direction from D.C. (which isn't expected until late this year or early next). In same boat, AIG and Prudential have both thrown caution to the wind and begun repurchases.
On the other hand Met has boosted its dividend to $1.10 per share annually and the payout could approach $1.50 in 2015. There was also last year's $2B acquisition of Chilean pension fund provider Provida. If the new regulatory capital rules are too onerous, a breakup of Met into domestic and international businesses is a possibility.
"In a record stock market, MetLife offers a nice package for investors: a rock-bottom P/E and price/book ratio, an attractive global franchise, and a financially astute management team," writes Andrew Bary.
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