Vivek Kumar
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MetLife, one of the largest life insurers in the world, reported better-than-expected earnings in the first quarter of 2021 and said the worst impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was behind, sending shares to a record high on Wednesday.

The New York-based insurer reported net income of $290 million, or $0.33 per share, compared to net income of $4.4 billion, or $4.75 per share, in the first quarter of 2020. Adjusted earnings rose to $2.0 billion, or $2.20 per share, up from adjusted earnings of $1.4 billion, or $1.58 per share, seen in the same period a year ago. That beat the Wall Street consensus estimates of $1.48 per share.

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“In the quarter, we were very pleased to return approximately $1.4 billion to shareholders through share repurchases and common stock dividends. We believe the worst impact of the pandemic on our business performance is behind us, and we are well-positioned to create additional value for our stakeholders in the future,” said MetLife President and CEO Michel Khalaf.

The leader of life insurance company said its net investment income rose 74% to $5.3 billion, largely driven by increases in the estimated fair value of certain securities that do not qualify as separate accounts under GAAP and higher variable investment income primarily due to higher private equity returns.

Following the upbeat results, MetLife shares hit an all-time of $65.905 on Wednesday. The stock rose over 39% so far this year.

Analyst Comments

“This quarter’s results clearly received an outsized benefit from strong alternative results, but what impresses us more is the stability and growth in underlying earnings, which should help in our view to drive further upside in the stock,” noted Nigel Dally, equity analyst at Morgan Stanley.

“Operating EPS was $2.20, considerably above both our estimate and the consensus of $1.53. Favorable marks on alternative investments provided more of a boost than expected, contributing over $1 billion to pre-tax earnings above a normal level. Conversely, pandemic-related claims weighed on some divisions, most notably its domestic group insurance operations. Excluding these items, we view the core earnings run-rate potential of the company as being largely in-line with prior expectations.”


MetLife Stock Price Forecast

Nine analysts who offered stock ratings for MetLife in the last three months forecast the average price in 12 months of $66.11 with a high forecast of $72.00 and a low forecast of $54.00.

The average price target represents a 1.07% increase from the last price of $65.41. Of those nine analysts, eight rated “Buy”, one rated “Hold” while none rated “Sell”, according to Tipranks.

Morgan Stanley raised the base target price to $72 from $70 with a high of $83 under a bull scenario and $48 under the worst-case scenario. The firm gave an “Overweight” rating on the life insurer’s stock.

“Following its retail separation, the company is committed to profitable growth while also simplify its operations to reduce earnings volatility. The company also de-risked its investment portfolio somewhat. Given these moves, the investment thesis for MetLife now revolves around capital management and free cash flow generation, growth in international operations, and expense reduction initiatives,” Morgan Stanley’s Dally added.

“We believe MetLife has the ability to continue its solid execution in its various businesses. More importantly, the solid results over the past several quarters were not driven by a single division, with all segments contributing to earnings growth to a certain extent.”

Several other analysts have also updated their stock outlook. JP Morgan raised the stock price forecast to $66 from $64. UBS initiated with a buy rating and a $72 target price. KBW upped the price target to $68 from $64. Piper Sandler lifted the price objective to $68 from $58. Evercore ISI increased the price target to $65 from $52. RBC raised the target price to $66 from $57.

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