1. MetLife

Shares of MetLife ( MET) closed at $38.09 Thursday, returning 22% year-to-date, following a 28% drop in 2011. The company paid an annual dividend of 74 cents in November, which was unchanged from a year earlier. The shares have a dividend yield of 1.94%.

The shares trade for 0.9 times tangible book value and 7.5 times the consensus 2012 EPS estimate of $5.09, making for the cheapest forward P/E among this group of five large-cap insurance companies. The consensus 2013 EPS estimate is $5.58.

MetLife is in the midst of a transition from being considered a bank holding company, and consequent regulation by the Federal Reserve. The company agreed in November to sell "most of the depository business" of its MetLife Bank subsidiary to General Electric ( GE) unit GE Capital. In January, MetLife announced it was exiting the forward residential mortgage business.

MetLife continues to originate reverse mortgages and to service existing mortgage loans.

The sale of the MetLife Bank depository business is expected to be completed during the second quarter, after which the company plans to deregister as a bank holding company.

The Federal Reserve in October rejected a capital plan submitted by MetLife that included plans to increase the company's return of capital to investors, through dividend increases and share buybacks. The company is currently undergoing the annual round of Fed stress tests, with results expected to be publicly announced by the regulator on Friday.

The company reported 2011 net income to common shareholders of $6.7 billion, or $6.29 a share, increasing from $2.7 billion, or $3.00 a share in 2010, with increases in premiums, policy fees and investment income growing total revenue by 34% to $70.3 billion.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Edward Spehar rates MetLife a "Buy," with a price objective of $56, saying last Monday that "capital distribution will be a catalyst" for the shares this year, with a "substantial" dividend increase and share buybacks.

Interested in more on MetLife? See TheStreet Ratings' report card for this stock.

>>To see these stocks in action, visit the 5 Buy-Rated Insurance Stocks for Long-Term Investors portfolio on Stockpickr.

-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

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Philip W. van Doorn is a member of TheStreet's banking and finance team, commenting on industry and regulatory trends. He previously served as the senior analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings, responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. Mr. van Doorn previously served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Long Island University.

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