RenaissanceRe Nabs Two Analyst Endorsements

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- RenaissanceRe ( RNR) shares have rallied 15% over the past three months. Two analysts said Friday that the reinsurer's run may continue.

Citigroup analyst Keith Walsh added RenaissanceRe to the investment bank's Top Picks Live list, saying the company is the best-positioned insurer to take advantage of firming rates. In addition, Walsh says RenaissanceRe is primed for strong growth and that Wall Street analysts will likely revise profit forecasts for the company higher in the near term.

Walsh notes that there were approximately 820 natural catastrophe events in 2011 with total insured losses of about $105 billion, making last year the second most costly since 1980. "While these losses were not sufficient to create a hard market, RNR is seeing solid price increases, which we would also define as adequate from an ROE perspective and sustainable in 2012 owing to increased demand for reinsurance," Walsh writes.

Additionally, Walsh said he expects RenaissanceRe to resume share buybacks. "Management has indicated share buy backs could resume beginning in 4Q11, making them one of a handful of underwriters that can write more business and return capital to shareholders," Walsh writes.

In addition to increasing his 2012 and 2013 profit estimates, Walsh reiterated his "buy" rating on RenaissanceRe and raised his price target to $85 from $80. In adding the stock to Citi's Top Picks Live! List, Walsh removed rival insurer XL Group ( XL), although Citi still retains a "buy" rating on the stock. Shares of RenaissanceRe closed Thursday at $72.97.

Meanwhile, Wells Fargo analyst John Hall upgraded RenaissanceRe to "outperform" from "market perform," arguing the company has set conservative guidance for 10% growth in its managed cat premiums in 2012. "Additionally RNR has proven that it can utilize multiple capital resources to take advantage of market opportunities," Hall adds.

Hall also upgraded Travelers ( TRV) to "outperform," saying the Dow component is "positioned to capitalize on the improving rates in the primary insurance market." Meanwhile, Hall downgraded Axis Capital ( AXS) to "market perform," arguing that a reversion to the mean for the company's share price may be extended due to the transition of CEO John Charman to the chairman position in May.

Hall raised his valuation range for RenaissanceRe to a range of $82 to $86 from the previous range of $72 to $76. He also increased his valuation range for Travelers to $67 to $72 from the prior valuation range of $60 to $65. Axis Capital's valuation range was cut to $32 to $35 from the previous range of $36 to $39.

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston.

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