MetLife, Inc. (MET) is a leading global provider of insurance, annuities, and employee benefit programs. Through its subsidiaries, the company offers life and property & casualty insurance, annuities, and other financial services to individuals, as well as groups, corporations, and other institutions, in the United States, Japan, Latin America, and the EMEA. The company serves approximately 90 million customers across the globe, and holds leading positions in most of the markets it has entered.
Following the 2008-2009 financial crisis, MetLife has performed admirably. Revenue from all sources has since trended positively ahead, and earnings, too, have exhibited stable growth. In fact, there are a few opportunities that may even help accelerate share-net in the coming years. A major goal of management in the near-term will be to refocus the U.S. business. The company plans to shift a greater share of the domestic business mix to its protection-oriented, lower-risk products, away from more market-sensitive, capital-intensive offerings. Acting on its commitment to this goal, MetLife rolled out a new product in the first quarter of 2013. A new variable-annuity (VA) product is expected to improve the risk profile of the VA business, and generate higher returns on the company’s capital. Furthermore, this development fits into the company’s plan to begin reducing U.S. VA sales immediately and drive margin improvement.
Aside from introducing new products engineered to meet an improved risk profile, further expansion into emerging markets will likely be the best avenue for future growth. It would not be surprising to see M&A activity in new markets. Opportunistic acquisitions would complement other organic growth initiatives by enabling MetLife to more quickly penetrate foreign markets by acquiring already established firms. It could then have an easier time distributing its products through such companies, as the ongoing operations of the acquisition target would likely already have established customer bases and brand-recognition. That is precisely the approach that MetLife took in Chile – adding AFP Provida to its portfolio, one of the largest private pension funds in that country.
MetLife should also reap some benefits from the recent completion of its bank de-registration, under which it sold the entirety of its bank deposits to GE Capital (the financial services unit of General Electric (GE -Free General Electric Stock Report)). As a result, the company will no longer be regulated as a bank holding company, and shouldn’t be subjected to stress tests and capital requirements that the company previously deemed to have been excessive. Having failed a Federal Reserve stress-test in 2012 that prevented management from moving forward with dividend increases and a new share-repurchase program, de-registering was made a priority. At this point, the company has freed itself from some regulation; however, as companies like American International Group (AIG) and Prudential (PRU) have come under review as potentially being non-bank systemically important financial institutions (SIFI), there is reason to believe that MET may soon also face a push to be designated as such. This categorization assumes that the company is a significant institution whose failure could potentially affect the aggregate economy, thus necessitating increased regulatory oversight.
In the meantime, MetLife was able to finally increase its dividend for the first time since 2007. Having moved to a quarterly payout from the onset of 2013, the $0.28-a-share disbursement, payable at the end of the second-quarter, marks a near 50% increase on a quarterly basis.
While this is favorable news, and investors are likely happy to receive a larger dividend on a more regular basis, there remains some uncertainty surrounding this equity. It is unclear how the Fed moves forward with regulating those financial institutions that are under review as potential non-bank SIFI. Furthermore, a lot of the proposed scenarios for expansion are contingent on growth in the emerging markets, which has become less of a sure thing as many economies worldwide seem to have hit a snag in recent quarters.
Those investors interested in a more detailed analysis of MetLife should browse our full-page report in the Value Line Investment Survey.
At the time of this article’s writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.