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3 Insurance Stocks to Buy Instead of Berkshire

There is hardly an investor who doesn’t want to hold shares of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. BRK.A BRK.B. The holding not only gives a feel of investing in mutual funds but also rewards investors with higher returns at the same time. But above all, the company has Warren Buffett at the helm.

As the chairman and CEO, Buffett has spearheaded in creating tremendous value for the company’s shareholders over the past several years. Berkshire Hathaway, a conglomerate with nearly 90 subsidiaries, engages in business ranging from ice-cream to insurance.

Though the company runs heterogeneous activities, its property and casualty insurance business remains the frontrunner generating maximum return on equity. However, the company failed to beat expectation in two of the last four reported quarters, the average surprise being negative 3.42%.

Also, this Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell) stock did not witness any positive earnings estimate revision in the last 60 days. The Zacks Consensus Estimate lost 5.6% for 2016 and 7.9% for 2017 over the last 8 weeks. Additionally, shares of Berkshire Hathaway seem expensive as its P/E is 19.3% higher than the industry average of 16.2%.

Should an astute investor look beyond the over-hyped Berkshire Hathaway?

Well, there are other attractive stocks in the property & casualty (P&C) insurance industry that may not be as big a name as Berkshire Hathaway but promise greater returns.

Market uncertainties characterized by volatile oil prices, China growth worries and terror attacks (like the one that hit Brussels in March) dealt a blow to most stocks. But the P&C insurance space remains somewhat insulated from these vagaries. This industry is more impacted by catastrophe activities. Accordingly, a benign catastrophe environment, continued influx of capital in an already well-capitalized industry, price strengthening and a still soft interest rate environment presently makes the property and casualty insurance industry attractive.

While the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) maintained the federal funds rate of 0.25–0.50% at its March meeting, it also reduced the median forecast for the number of rate hikes this year to two from four projected at its meeting last December.    

Though a rate hike will positively impact investment results, it is to be noted that insurance companies stand to benefit from a low interest rate regime. This is because insurance companies hold a considerable amount in bonds, which would see a decline in their value if rates rise. Nonetheless, an increase in the rate will drive investment results, driving earnings even further.

Assured Picks

Since insurance stocks are poised for growth no matter what the Fed chooses to do, the space is bound to attract attention. Here, we always look to maximize our return on investment, with Berkshire or Warren Buffet being the guiding star. Taking nothing away from Berkshire, we have picked some solid operators in the space that have the potential to boost one’s portfolio even more.

We refine our search using the VGM score , a solid Zacks Rank and attractive price-to-earnings (P/E).  Here V stands for Value, G for Growth and M for Momentum and the score is a weighted combination of these three scores. Also, these stocks posted positive earnings surprises over the past four quarters.

Based in Fort Worth, TX, Hallmark Financial Services, Inc. HALL, with its wholly owned subsidiaries is engaged in the sale of property and casualty insurance products. Hallmark Financial has a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) and a VGM Score of B. The company has expected earnings growth of 6.19% for the current year.

The forward P/E ratio is 9.7, which is lower than the industry average of 16.5. The company delivered positive surprises in three of the last four quarters, with an average beat of 110.7%. Notably, the stock is witnessing upward estimate revisions (up 20% for 2016 and 19% for 2017 over the last 60 days).

Headquartered in Jacksonville, FL, Fidelity National Title Group, Inc. FNF is a leading provider of title insurance, specialty insurance and claims management services. Fidelity National has a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) and a VGM Score of B. The company has expected long-term earnings growth of 16.3%. For the current year, earnings are expected to grow 16.0%. The forward P/E ratio is 13.5, which is lower than the industry average of 16.5. The company delivered positive surprises in three of the last four quarters, with an average beat of 4.05%.

Branchville, NJ-based Selective Insurance Group Inc. SIGI through its insurance subsidiaries offers a broad range of property and casualty insurance products. Selective Insurance has a Zacks Rank #2 and a VGM Score of B. The company has expected long-term earnings growth of 2.9%. The current year earnings growth is estimated at 3.7%. The forward P/E ratio is 13.2, which is lower than the industry average of 16.5. The company delivered positive surprises in three of the last four quarters, with an average beat of 10.3%.
 

Want the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report


Want the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report
 
BERKSHIRE HTH-B (BRK.B): Free Stock Analysis Report
 
HALLMARK FINL (HALL): Free Stock Analysis Report
 
FNF GROUP (FNF): Free Stock Analysis Report
 
SELECT INS GRP (SIGI): Free Stock Analysis Report
 
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