Shares of MetLife Inc. and John Hancock Financial Services surged Tuesday while financial stocks generally had a sluggish day.
MetLife's third-quarter per-share earnings rose 25.6% from a year earlier, to 49 cents, matching Wall Street expectations, according to First Call/Thomson Financial. Joan H. Zief, an analyst at Goldman Sachs & Co., said the company's management "confirmed that they can grow earnings by 15% in the next years," and that MetLife has "a strong balance sheet and leverage products."
MetLife's total premiums increased 19%, to $3.31 billion, led by variable life insurance products, while annuity deposits rose 14%, to $1.29 billion. Only revenues from retirement and savings decreased, by 17%.
Kathy Shanley, an analyst at Gimme Credit Publications Inc., said John Hancock and MetLife are not alike. While MetLife concentrates on expanding distribution, Hancock is "very innovative, and focused on technology," she said. "When it comes to the Internet, they are way ahead of the industry." The company's third-quarter per-share earnings rose 21.3% from a year earlier, to 57 cents, exceeding analyst consensus by 2 cents, according to First Call/Thomson Financial.
In a press statement announcing the earnings Thursday, David F. D'Alessandro, president and chief executive officer of John Hancock, said the company expects earnings to grow "in the high teens" this year and around 10%-12% next year.
A large part of John Hancock's third-quarter income came from noninsurance business, including asset management, though mutual fund earnings rose only 3.4%, to $21.1 million before taxes. Its protection segment earnings rose 12%, but investment management income declined 20.9%, to $13.4 million.
In a research note published Monday, Ms. Shanley wrote that, considering "net investment income accounts for nearly half total revenues," she considers the company's investment portfolio a "cloud on the horizon." She also wrote that she does not "anticipate an aggressive leveraging of the balance sheet."
Michelle Giordano, an analyst at J.P. Morgan & Co., who initiated coverage for John Hancock on Oct. 31 with a "buy" rating, wrote in her research report that a key to the company's future growth is "leveraging off its distribution and product offering."
MetLife climbed $1.0625 Tuesday, or 4.08%, closing at $27.125. John Hancock rose $1.4375, or 5.08%, to $29.75. The American Banker index of 225 banks dropped 0.44%, and its index of top 50 banks slipped 0.74%.
MetLife demutualized in January, and John Hancock did so in April. Analysts consider these important moves in the consolidation of the insurance business.
Ms. Zief said that she does not expect either firm to merge immediately. Demutualization is not necessarily a prerequisite for a merger, but being public makes the companies more flexible and more competitive, she said.
Ms Shanley said she sees both companies mostly as acquirers, but they could be sellers if the right opportunities were to come along.