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Insurance Stocks Are Ready to Rally

Stocks in this article: MET PGR ABK

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Are insurance stocks due for another growth spurt?

Conseco (CNO), PMI Group (PMI) and Genworth Financial (GNW) led the pack from March's low in stock prices, tripling or quadrupling in a short span.

Radian (RDN) ran ahead over the summer, more than doubling, but by the beginning of September, investors' concerns mounted as the economy continued to show signs of weakness. Nine insurance stocks had recorded share-price declines over the previous three months, including Amerigroup (AGP) and MBIA (MBI).

In the past three months, companies that have been most exposed to the economy have fared the worst. They include Kingsway Financial Services (KFS), Ambac (ABK) and MBIA, down 68%, 48% and 41%, respectively. Forty-seven percent of insurance stocks have fallen in the past three months.

Gainers include WellCare (WCG), up 42%, and Ameriprise (AMP), up 32%. Insurance shares, on average, have risen 0.2%, reflecting uncertainty even as MetLife (MET) released positive earnings projections.

Price-to-earnings ratios are little changed, according to SNL Financial. The average insurance stock has a P/E ratio of 6.77 versus 6.61 in June. The average price-to-book value has dropped from 90.4% to 88.7%.

There has been waning interest in insurance stocks. Trading volume stands at 78% of the past month's. Short sellers, who bet on share-price declines, have helped to lower the short ratio from 5 to 4.56 in the past week.

It's unlikely investors will find the stocks as attractively priced again. The combination of good value, low P/E ratios and some volatility suggest the insurance sector is primed to take off with the economy.

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