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Is It Safe? MetLife Escapes the Tumult

MetLife has raised capital, declined the government's offer of money and remained profitable.
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TSC Ratings provides exclusive stock, ETF and mutual fund ratings and commentary based on award-winning, proprietary tools. Its "safety first" approach to investing aims to reduce risk while seeking solid outperformance on a total return basis.



, considered a federally chartered bank holding company, is undergoing the government's so-called stress test. But the largest U.S. life insurer said it won't be seeking funds from the Treasury Capital Purchase Program.

"MetLife is well-positioned, with approximately $5 billion in excess capital," Chief Executive Officer C. Robert Henrikson said this week.

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As for other insurers,

Prudential Financial


turned to the Treasury after losing money in 2008.

Genworth Financial


said last week it won't be taking the government's money.

Lincoln National


said it doesn't qualify for the FDIC's Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program, though it's eligible for the Capital Purchase Program.

MetLife's shares have fallen 24% this year, less than the 31% decline of the

S&P 500's

insurance-company index. Lincoln National has plummeted 50%, and Prudential has slipped only 16%.

Where does that leave MetLife?

MetLife in 2008 had a return on average equity, or ROAE, of 11%, better than the median of 3.3%. The New York-based company raised $2.3 billion in additional capital last fall to weather the recession. What may come as a surprise to some is that, in an age when

American International Group


had a world-quaking blowout, MetLife has remained profitable.

The insurer's first-quarter results, scheduled to be released May 1, may show an improvement. That optimism is based on the relatively low exposure to mortgage-backed securities. Metropolitan Life Insurance, its subsidiary, has $5.6 billion, or 38% of capital and reserves, exposed to the securities, compared with Hartford Life Insurance's $9 billion, or 219%, and Prudential Insurance Co. of America's $11.7 billion, or 153%. Hartford Life Insurance is owned by

Hartford Financial Services Group


, and Prudential Insurance is held by Prudential Financial. Metropolitan Life Insurance's financial strength rating is B (good), as reviewed by Ratings, according to information from SNL Financial. MetLife's stock rating is C, or "hold."

Some investors may have been spooked by AIG, thinking all insurers are equally tainted.

But MetLife is different. It doesn't need to draw on government funds and has tried to ensure months ago that it would have enough capital to get through the downturn. If the company continues to perform as it has, MetLife can be considered safe -- and even a good buy -- with a price-to-earnings ratio that's less than 7. Ratings, recently cited for Best Stock Selection from October 2007 through February 2009 , is an independent research provider that combines fundamental and technical analysis to offer investors tremendous value in volatile times. To see how your portfolio can use this research,

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Gavin Magor joined Ratings in 2008, and is the senior analyst responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to health insurers and supporting other health care-related consumer products, including Medicare supplement insurance, long-term care insurance and elder care information. He conducts industry analysis in these areas. He has more than 20 years' international experience in credit risk management, commercial lending and analysis, working in the U.K., Sweden, Mexico, Brazil and the U.S. He holds a master's degree in business administration from The Open University in the U.K.