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Kingsway Joins Club of Insurance Losers

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Embroiled in a dispute with Pennsylvania's insurance regulator, Kingsway Financial Services (KFS) is in trouble.

The Ontario-based insurer gifted ownership of a U.S. subsidiary to 20 charities to limit its liabilities, and now the company looks terminal. Its stock price stands at a little more than $1.

It's not the only insurer whose shares have swung wildly as the credit crisis, worsened by the recession, has meant investing has become a buy-or-sell opportunity depending on the news of the day. Some companies' stocks, such as Ambac (ABK) or Radian (RDN), are driven by rumor as much as profits or losses, or other facts.

Kingsway's stock has dropped more than 67% in a month, dragged down by the dispute with the insurance regulator. Ambac has fallen 29%, hurt by late filings, revelations of misstatements and the resignation of its chief financial officer. Insurance shares also rise on the barest of good news these days. Radian's stock popped 23% on Tuesday on lower-than-expected delinquency rates.

Kingsway is unlike Ambac in one way: Its beta (or stock-market correlation) of 0.84 is the opposite of Ambac's 2.15. You expect high returns for risking your money with Ambac. What you don't expect is the high risk that comes with Kingsway's low beta.

Kingsway's 74% decline in the past year is the worst performance of any insurance stock, with Ambac at No. 2. If it prevails in its court case with Pennsylvania's insurance regulator, Kingsway will get a reprieve, and its stock will certainly rocket. As with Ambac, whose stock is well below $1, Kingsway is massively speculative.

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