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Insurance giant, Aviva, was one of the FTSE 100’s gains this week, seeing its stock rise almost four per cent after reporting operating profits of £3.2 billion.
Before the results, Aviva had seen a week-long slump to its share price thanks to widespread flooding and coronavirus fears.
The results looked solid all round with Aviva’s total net value of net business premiums jumping from £200 million to £9.3 billion, and costs falling by a third to £129 million.
When he took over the helm, CEO Maurice Tulloch set himself the modest goal to “run Aviva better”, so can investors rest assured that he is making progress?
His cost cutting efforts are certainly yielding returns – the insurer has sold many of its fringe businesses and slimmed down its Asian operations leaving it with a Solvency II ratio of 206 per cent. Its revenues are up too with increased premiums in General Insurance and rising inflows in Life and Savings.
Hargreaves Lansdowne though did caution that the insurance sector as a whole is at the mercy of global headwinds and the coronavirus still has the potential to be very disruptive. Aviva said it ‘was still taking action’ to reduce its exposure to potential economic shocks on this front.
Tulloch has also scrapped the previous dividend policy at Aviva, and the results saw a yield of nine per cent or 30.9p, which may not have gone down well with some investors used to double digit increases over the last few years. Analysts at Morgan Stanley, who have a price target of 460p on the stock, described the dividend yield as ‘harsh’ particularly in light of such a strong solvency ratio.
Tulloch did warn that rebuilding profitability at Aviva will take time, but the general consensus seems to be that these results present a solid, if not spectacular, opportunity for growth.
Annuity giant, Legal and General also announced their results this week, and its 12 per cent rise in full year operating profit has led to a seven per cent dividend hike for investors.
Share prices saw a modest two per cent rise in the wake of the results taking them to 248.00p at the time of writing.
The firm’s Retirement arm saw stellar growth of 27 per cent after winning big bulk annuity deals from Rolls Royce and National Grid, and a lowering of mortality expectations led to a reserve release of £155m.
Coronavirus has hit Legal & General’s insolvency ratio though – CFO Jeff Davies said it had fallen ten percentage points to 174 per cent since the start of the year.
Analysts, UBS, described it as a ‘mixed’ set of results for Legal and General, pointing out that the total nine per cent below consensus forecasts due to higher costs cancelled out some of the good news. Others though think the stock looks on the cheap side, pointing out that earnings per share have risen by 16 per cent compared to last year and the forward-looking yield for 2020 is around seven per cent.
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