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Manulife Financial Corp. (MFC)

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We are upgrading our recommendation on the shares of shares of Manulife Financial Corp. (MFC) to Outperform from Neutral following the recent announcement by the company to expand into Korea, which marks an expansion in its key Asian market. The company has also set up a head office in Cambodia. We believe further penetration in Asian markets will fuel long-term earnings growth for the company.

Manulife has achieved a great deal in reducing its exposures to potential equity markets as well as interest rates risk. It has also reduced its exposure towards interest sensitive products.

Our six-month target price of $15.00 equates to about 39.5x our earnings estimate for 2012. We view the $0.52 per common share annual dividend as secure, implying an expected total return of about 25.0% over that period. This is consistent with our Outperform recommendation on the shares.

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