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What: Shares of Assurant (NYSE:AIZ), a provider of insurance solutions throughout the world, tumbled as much as 16% in Wednesday's trading after announcing its fourth-quarter earnings results following the closing bell last night. Based on the reaction, the results didn't find the mark.

So what: The big number was Assurant's fourth-quarter net operating income which dipped to $65.3 million, or $0.97 per share, from $99.8 million, or $1.38 per share in the prior-year quarter. Keep in mind that late in the prior fiscal year Assurant struck a deal to sell its health-benefits operations to Sun Life Financial (NYSE:SLF) for $900 million; therefore, its results aren't exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. Nonetheless, Wall Street had been projecting Q4 EPS of $1.54, so Assurant wasn't even in the ballpark.

The other major issue for Assurant was weakness in mobile device insurance plans. Management did note that new plans are expected to pick up in the second half of fiscal 2016.

As Assurant continues to undergo this transition away from its health-benefits business and toward the home and lifestyle sectors, expenses and results could fluctuate. This uncertainty is clearly not sitting well with investors.

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Image source: Flickr user Mark Moz.

Now what: There's no beating around the bush here: Assurant's Q4 results weren't pretty. However, specialty insurers like Assurant are known for going through the occasional rough patch and coming out fresh as a whistle on the other side. Assurant's business is still capable of driving growth through pricing power, and its push for new mobile plans in the second-half of the year will be critical to providing some near-term stability.

On the flipside, I'd caution investors to be wary of currency fluctuations, low lending rates which have hampered interest-based income, and expenses which could easily rise as Assurant promotes its new areas of focus.

Ultimately, I do believe Assurant has its shareholders' best interests in mind with this transition, but they'll need to be patient and potentially look to 2017 or 2018 before the fruits of its transformation are really felt.

Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.

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