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On Feb 14, the shares of CNO Financial Group Inc. (CNO - Analyst Report) touched a new 52-week high of $18.52 per share. A better–than–expected fourth-quarter 2013 results fuelled the momentum. With fourth quarter operating earnings of 33 cents per share, the company marked the third consecutive quarter of earnings beat. Results also outpaced 25 cents earned in the year-ago quarter.
 
The company exited the year on a strong note earning $1.17 per share, surpassing the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1.13 and year–ago earnings of 69 cents.
 
The earnings surprises on both the quarterly and yearly fronts were led by higher sales and premium, distribution expansion and financial strength. Higher revenues along with a decline in expenses boosted margins during the quarter.
 
Apart from continued strong earnings results, the future of the company looks promising. Significant earnings improvement and an extensive capital deployment plan positions the company to achieve its long-term return on equity goal of 9% by 2015. The company expects to spend $225–$300 million on the repurchase of securities in 2014.
 
In addition,  two insurance subsidiaries of the company entered into 100% coinsurance agreements that should help CNO Financial address its run-off business and bolster earnings in the future.
 
Moreover, strong cash flow and effective capital management should help retain investor confidence in the stock.
 
CNO Financial carries a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). Old Republic International Corp. (ORI - Snapshot Report), The Travelers Companies Inc. (TRV - Analyst Report) and ACE Ltd (ACE - Analyst Report) are also worth considering. While TRV and ACE carry a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy), ORI sports the same rank as CNO Financial.

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