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The recovery story for insurance giant American International Group (NYSE: AIG ) has been an interesting one. But many investors are still shying away from the company that held the title of Wall Street pariah until very recently -- even if hedge funds are giving AIG a whole new status. If you're just checking out the behemoth for the first time, or trying to decide whether or not to jump in again, there are plenty of reasons AIG might be right for you, no matter what type of investor you are.
One of the top reasons cited for an investment in AIG is the fact that it's been trading below book value for a long, long time. Of course, there was a reason for that (ahem, near-collapse, anyone?), but the insurer is back on its feet and should be trading closer to its intrinsic value. As of yesterday's close, the insurer poses a 25% upside to new investors at its reported book value of $61.25 per share. And that's after climbing over 34% so far in 2013.
One of the best value investors on Wall Street, Bruce Berkowitz, has been touting this approach to his Fairholme Fund's investment in AIG for quite a while. Over half of the fund is made up of AIG stock, and Berkowitz believes the shares will quadruple within the next five to seven years.
This approach may not be as clear-cut as the value investor's route, but trust me, AIG is a growth opportunity. By focusing on both good strategies and prime market position, AIG should be able to overcome its already-huge presence and deliver growth to shareholders.
By centering the company's recovery on a back-to-basics approach, CEO Robert Benmosche has actually delivered some new efficiencies and opportunities to the brand. Three areas in particular present opportunities for AIG, which have benefited from the refocus: basic insurance products, mortgage guaranty, and annuities.
In the first six months of 2013, the company's insurance operations have delivered a 35% increase in net income for the company, compared to rival Allstate's (NYSE: ALL ) 17.54% during the same time period. Overall earnings-per-share growth is also considerably more robust than its competitor's, with a 38% increase versus a 7% jump when comparing the most recent quarter.
AIG's reentering the mortgage guaranty business during the first half of the year is also proving to be a great opportunity for the insurer. The segment is providing $73 million in operating income following a 62% increase in new insurance written. These figures match closely to those reported by competitor Radian Group (NYSE: RDN ) during the second quarter, though Radian is not yet profitable in the market.
The annuity business has been a difficult one for insurers during the recent years. With low interest rates putting pressure on investment income and returns, some chose to exit the business entirely -- such as Sun Life Financial and Genworth Financial in 2012. But by padding their products with risk control measures, AIG has come out the other side with record sales. The recent increase in interest rates drove a fixed-annuities boom in the second quarter, and individual variable annuities reached $2.2 billion in sales.
Outside the scope of AIG's products, the company is perfectly poised to capture opportunities in the international markets. The company operates in 90 countries and has started some new initiatives to make international operations more efficient. Also, AIG is one of the first major American insurers to enter the Chinese insurance market with its investment in the PICC Group. With an established network all over the globe, AIG will be light-years ahead of competitors when new markets start to boom as the global economic recovery advances.
Last, but certainly not least, AIG's reinstatement of its quarterly dividend places it back into an important segment of the stock market: dividend growth stocks. Though the current dividend is a small $0.10 per share, the equivalent of a 0.8% annualized yield, income investors should be looking at the company with some patience. Not only will AIG be executing a $1 billion share repurchase plan in the coming months, which will cut into the share dilution that occurred subsequent to the governmental bailout, but dividend increases are surely on the horizon.
Competitor MetLife (NYSE: MET ) is close to AIG in both size and scope, and it currently pays investors $1.10 per share -- a 2.3% yield and a healthy target that AIG might eventually aim for. Though AIG's management is keeping a tight hold on its available cash for now (in order to scope out new acquisitions and other investments), shareholders should be reassured by CEO Benmosche's statements that the company's priority of capital management and debt reduction has created a $600 million in annualized savings -- twice the amount the company will be paying in dividends.
AIG offers plenty of opportunities for investors willing to hang on while the company takes advantage of myriad projects and opportunities. By focusing in on your investing method and how AIG fits into your plan, you can see the insurer is a prime candidate for your portfolio. And by expanding your focus, you'll see the insurer is also attractive to investors of all methods and creeds.
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