The nearly 11% drop in its stock price so far this year makes insurer MetLife (MET - Get Report) a smart value proposition.

What's more, MetLife's nearly 4% dividend yield, low payout ratio, less-than-book-value valuation and double-digit earnings growth offer a plethora of positives.

MetLife is a great play for long-term growth and income.

Investors should avoid focusing only on first-quarter results, which were hurt by poor alternative-investment returns. MetLife plans to redeem a large chunk of its hedge fund investment, just as American International Group and CalSTRS plan to do, which should help lessen those concerns.

MetLife, through its subsidiaries and affiliates, holds leading market positions in Africa, Asia, Europe, Japan, Latin America, the Middle East as well as the United States. This allows the company global reach, as well as the opportunity to expand.

Analysts are forecasting average annual earnings-per-share growth of 11.8% for the next five years. That is faster growth than MetLife competitors Aflac (9.67%), Legal & General Group (11%), Manulife Financial (7.25%) and Prudential (8.57%).

Adjusting the price-earnings-to-growth ratio, the company's shares are available at a five-year expected PEG of 0.66, compared with 1.07 for Aflac, 1.04 for Legal & General Group, 1.36 for Manulife and 0.92 for Prudential. Less than 1 indicates good value, a clear indication of why MetLife is such a rare bargain for multi-year growth.

A large part of why investors haven't been great fans of MetLife's over the past year has a lot to do with its stock price decline.

Like other life insurers, MetLife is operationally leveraged to the capital markets as a result of its business concentration in variable annuities and universal life. Coupled with low interest rates, this hasn't helped MetLife.

But things could be changing.

For starters, MetLife has received a favorable verdict from a federal judge that the insurer shouldn't have been designated a systemically important financial institution. The designation had come at the cost of stricter regulations.

And the spin-off of MetLife's U.S. retail business looks likely to enhance shareholder value.

From an income perspective, MetLife's 3.7% dividend yield is very attractive. Shareholders can expect higher dividends because the company has a payout ratio of less than 30%, and three years of sustained dividend growth bodes well for income-seeking investors.

The company's annual free cash flow in excess of $14 billion easily covers the nearly $1.8 billion of annual dividend payments, $1 billion to $2 billion worth of U.S. Treasury repurchases and an occasional redemption of preferred shares.

With three-year average net income growth of 58.9%, MetLife has gradually seen a recovery in earnings after the 2008-09 financial crisis that knocked the wind out of most insurers.

MetLife's earnings are growing almost at double the pace of the industry (28.2%), and the company is less leveraged than the industry.

Available at less than its price-to-book ratio of 0.6, MetLife represents a solid money-making opportunity, as analysts have a median one-year price target of $51.50, which would represent a 20% increase.


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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.