NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Unlike technology shares including Apple (AAPL) - Get Report and Google (GOOG) - Get Report, insurance stocks usually don't trade for more than $100. (Insurance holding company Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) - Get Report, however, is known for never pursuing a stock split.)
The exceptions don't mean they're overpriced. Like Apple and Google, insurance companies that have been pushed above that mark by investors signal bullishness. The following four insurance-company stocks go for more than $100, standing out among the dozens of insurers traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
: New York-based property and casualty insurer with an interest in an oil and gas exploration and production company.
A total of $63 million in cash and equivalents in the third quarter, down 15%. Increased investments, up 4.6% to $4.4 billion. Assets up, 1.4% to $6.3 billion. Policy income fell 8%, and investment income dropped 55%. Securities losses have ceased. Net income of $49 million continued to rise, up 7% for the quarter.
Trading volume has fallen 61%. The stock is down 0.8% over 12 months. The price-to-earnings ratio of 12 is complemented by a discount to book value of 9.5%. Short interest is below average for an insurer.
Earnings release for 2009 due February 26.
3. White Mountains Insurance Group
: Bermuda-based insurance holding company behind Esurance. It owns 70% of
OneBeacon Insurance Group
and 19% of
Cash and equivalents down 36% in the third quarter. Investments rose 5.6% and total assets 0.8%. Total liabilities continued to fall, down 2.3%. Policy income was up from the previous quarter but down 4% from a year earlier. Investment income of $202 million was down 33% on the previous quarter. Net income of $192.7 million was down 14% after higher expenses.
The P/E ratio of 4.6 is extremely low. The price-to-book value is 82%. Trading volume is 57% below average. Little short interest. The stock is down 0.5% this year but up 21% over 12 months and 8.8% below analysts' consensus price target. There's a 0.3% dividend yield.
White Mountains will hang on to its stock in Symetra Financial, which debuted on the NYSE on Jan. 22. It's acquiring troubled Central National Insurance from Nebraska for $5 million, subject to regulatory approval.
: Virginia-based property and casualty insurer with a niche in specialty markets.
Cash and equivalents, up 51% for the third quarter and over 100% from a year earlier. Investments are up 4.6%. Total assets of $10.2 billion are up 5%, while liabilities are up 2%. Policy income and net investment income are down 13% from a year earlier. Losses on securities continued, rising $16 million in the third quarter although lower than a year earlier. A reduction in total expenses resulted in a gain in net income.
P/E ratio of 13.8. Price-to-book value is 121%. Trading volume is 31% below average. There's short interest in the stock, with a ratio of 9.9, but it's falling. The price has fallen 2.4% this year but is up 14% over 12 months. There's no dividend, but a 5.9% gap between the current and analysts' consensus price target.
Some say it's the poor man's Berkshire Hathaway and more than an insurer. Markel has significant investments in Berkshire Class A and B shares,
. Pressure is growing on premium income for all property and casualty insurers, even if margins improve. Markel is warning that yields on investments will be lower in 2010.
1. Berkshire Hathaway: Nebraska-based holding company that's a significant force in property and casualty insurance, and life and health insurance. Run by famed billionaire investor Warren Buffett.
A total of $26.9 billion in cash and equivalents, up 9.8% in the third quarter. Investments grew 10.6% to $12 billion. Total assets grew 6.1%, as liabilities increased 2.9%. Policy income was up 1.7%. Net investment income was down 5%, and gains on securities fell 22% to $1.8 billion but represented the second consecutive quarterly increase after $11.9 billion in losses. Net income of $3.3 billion represented a small decline.
The share price rose 5.1% on Wednesday on high volume, averaging 3.5 times normal activity in the past week. The share price is still 17% below analysts' consensus price target of $125,000. The P/E ratio is 12.8, and the price-to-book value is 132%. Little short interest and falling. The stock has risen 7.8% this year and is up 24% over 12 months.
Berkshire's class B shares will join the S&P 500 after the company completes the acquisition of
Burlington Northern Santa Fe
( BNI), spurring the current interest in the Class A stock.
Gavin Magor is the senior analyst responsible for assigning financial-strength ratings to insurance companies. He conducts industry analysis and supports consumer products. Magor has more than 22 years of international experience in operations and credit-risk management, commercial lending and analysis. His experience includes international assignments in Sweden, Mexico, Brazil and the U.S. He holds a master's degree in business administration from The Open University in the U.K.