"Is It Safe?" looks at a company's risk-and-reward potential. Find out if your stocks are safe at 4 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Insurance-company stocks have been clobbered as much as bank shares. Insurers' large investment portfolios were dented by the stock-market crash. In some cases -- American International Group ( AIG) and Hartford Financial Services Group ( HIG) -- the consequences were close to disastrous. Some, hurt by their own business models, such as Ambac ( ABK) and MBIA ( MBI), are still on the precipice. But nine months after the meltdown, it's actually a good time to invest in insurance stocks. Of the 94 insurers listed on the New York Stock Exchange, 15 have risen more than 50% in the past three months, led by Genworth ( GNW), which has tripled. Because insurers have rebounded with a lag to the rest of the stock market, they are now attractive "value" investments. And they are safer now than they have been in months, given that many have reduced risks and raised additional capital. To start, HealthSpring ( HS) has a very low price-to-book value of 83.8%, a low price-to-earnings ratio of 7.8 and a trailing P/E of only 5.5. The trailing P/E average for the industry is 15.8. Compared with other insurance stocks, HealthSpring has been held back, rising just 26% in the past three months. Investors have started to see the value and the stock is rising. Unum Group ( UNM) is slightly richer than HealthSpring, with a price-to-book value of 94.5%, a P/E of 9.2 and a trailing P/E of 11.2. Unum's stock has increased 20% over three months. Price-to-book value, the underlying value of a company's assets minus its liabilities divided by the share price, is an accurate method of looking for value. Of the 10 best value stocks, the insurer with the lowest price to book is Assured Guaranty ( AGO) at 63%. Ironically, it's one of the biggest gainers, up 58% in the past three months. It has a P/E of 3.8 and a trailing P/E of 4.0. It's poised for significant earnings growth in 2010, according to SNL Financial's analysts' estimates.
Another insurer with price-to-book values of less than 100% include CNA Surety Corp. ( SUR), at 83.7%. Profit growth in 2010 is projected to be considerably more modest than for Assured. PartnerRe ( PRE) has an incredibly low price-to-earnings ratio of 2.1. It has a trailing P/E of 7.7. The reinsurer's stock may rise to about $81 from about $69 today, according to analysts' consensus estimates. Still, 2010 may be flat, analysts say. Another insurer with an ultra-low P/E ratio is Allied World Assurance Co. Holdings ( AWH), at 4.2. Earnings are projected by analysts to rise this year and next. Companies with a lower current P/E than a trailing price-to-earnings ratio include Endurance Specialty Holdings ( ENH), suggesting a more sluggish rebound than its rivals. Validus Holdings ( VR) has already exceeded analysts' consensus price target for this year. But with growth forecast for this year and next, and a 94% price-to-book ratio, indications are pointing to an increase in the shares. Still, short sellers have been on the scene. Validus has a short-interest ratio of 13.9, compared with 5.9 for the average insurer. Contrarians may be attracted because it's a steady stock that has a low correlation to the overall stock market. Two other stocks worth a look are Aspen Insurance Holdings ( AHL) and Platinum Underwriters Holdings ( PIP). -- Reported by Gavin Magor in Jupiter, Fla. Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.