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Shares of CNO Financial Group Inc. (CNO - Analyst Report) are on an uptrend since the onset of the fourth quarter, with shares gaining 2.7% to close at $17.24 yesterday.

In addition, Zacks Investment Research upgraded CNO Financial to a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) on Dec 19

CNO Financial has been witnessing rising earnings estimates on the back of its strong third-quarter 2013 results, which included a 22.2% positive earnings surprise as well as its additional securities repurchase authorization, financial guidance and long term outlook.. Moreover, this multiline insurer delivered positive earnings surprises in 3 out of the last 4 quarters with an average beat of 15.4%.

CNO Financial’s third-quarter operating net income per share came in at 33 cents per share surpassing the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 27 cents. Results also surged substantially from 11 cents per share earned in the third quarter of 2012.

Although the top line was almost in line with the comparable year-ago number, it comfortably surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate in the reported quarter. Total annualized premiums also reported an improvement during the quarter whereas total benefits and expenses declined significantly leading to a margin expansion.

Further, strong capital generation supports CNO Financial’s plans to undertake strategic investments and focus on profit generation.

In addition, CNO Financial expects to spend around $250 million on the repurchase of securities in 2013 and $225 to $300 million in 2014. We expect efficient capital deployment to consistently cushion future buybacks and help CNO Financial achieve its long-term return on equity (ROE) goal of 9% by 2015. The company also estimates 20% dividend payout by 2015.

Debt to capital ratio is expected to be around 16% in 2014, The company remains keen to invest $45 to $55 million in key initiatives in 2014. For 2015 and 2016, overall sales are expected to increase in the range of 8% to 10%.

The Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2013 jumped 5.6% to $1.13 per share as 4 of 5 estimates was revised higher over the last 60 days. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2014 inched up 0.8% to $1.23 as well over the same period.

Other Stocks to Consider

Other better–ranked multi-line insurers include Old Republic International Corp. (ORI - Snapshot Report), Kemper Corp. (KMPR - Snapshot Report) and Prudential plc (PUK - Snapshot Report). All these carry the same Zacks rank as CNO Financial.

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