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Everest Offers Rock to Investors: Is It Safe?

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HAMILTON, Bermuda (TheStreet) -- In the past year, some stocks have served as rocks for investors, sources of stability in turbulent markets. Everest Re Group (RE) is one of them.

There has much discussion of the possibility of a market correction following the 50% rise of the S&P 500 Index since March. The Bermuda-based reinsurer could be a good place to park your money for a while.

Everest Re has a beta of less than one, meaning that it's less volatile than the market and would be less affected by a broad decline in stocks. Of course, if the market rises, you might not reap the gains you would for a riskier stock. However, its shares are trading for 14% less than analysts' average price target of $97, according to SNL Financial, so maybe safe isn't a bad place to be.

Everest Re is among the 20% of insurance stocks that rose in the past week. Not bad for a safe stock that's up 14% this year and 7.9% for the past 12 months. While its year-to-date gain trails the 15% advance of the S&P 500 Financials Index, the shares climbed even as the benchmark lost 30% in the past year.

There are better-known stocks with low betas, including Aetna (AET) at 0.83, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) (BRK.B) at 0.62 and WellPoint (WLP) at 0.68. But these stocks aren't as cheap as Everest shares. Everest Re's price-to-earnings ratio of 4.8 is far less than Aetna's 9.5, Berkshire's 11.5 and WellPoint's 9.4.

The company is also a strong bet based on price-to-book comparisons. Everest Re has a price-to-book ratio of 93, meaning the book value of the company's assets is more than the market capital. That compares to 115 for WellPoint and 143 for Aetna. While that doesn't make Everest Re a bargain stock, it leaves room for upward price movement.

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