Monday, October 19, 2009

Preview of Life Insurance Cos Q3 2009 Earnings

Scotia Capital, 19 October 2009

Canadian Lifecos – Another Noisy Quarter – Economic Backdrop Improving – Valuations Remain Very Attractive

• Another quarter with a lot of moving parts. As was the case in Q2/09, we expect the continued rebound in equity markets in Q3/09 will be offset to some extent by reserve increases, primarily related to declining long-term corporate rates, but also due to increasing policy persistency on lapse-supported products. Some have pre-announced, suggesting in Q2/09 earrnings releases that, given the pronounced market volatility, Q3/09 results would be affected by prospective actuarial assumption changes. In particular, MFC suggested in its Q2/09 release that preliminary information suggested a change in lapse assumptions for variable annuity/segregated fund guarantee business may result in a Q3/09 charge not to exceed $500 million ($0.30 EPS). MFC also suggested that changes in assumptions for other factors, which could not be estimated at that time, could result in additional charges to earnings. Our best guess is these charges, which we estimate to be $0.62 EPS, will be interest rate driven, as long corporate bond yields continue to fall. SLF also “pre-announced” at Q2/09, suggesting the company expects to take a Q3/09 charge of $350 million to $450 million ($0.80-$0.98 EPS) as it updates its stochastic economic scenario generator in accordance with updated professional guidance – guidance which we can gather applies only to SLF’s stochastic methodology, all others using a deterministic approach to which the revised guidelines do not apply. We’re somewhat uncertain as to whether IAG, the most sensitive of all the lifecos to interest rate changes, will book a charge for lower bond yields, in particular as they relate to long-term Quebec bonds (which generally support actuarial liabilities). However, our guess is that IAG will not, since it generally reviews this assumption at Q4, and the yields on these bonds have started to climb since the end of Q3/09. GWO, the least sensitive to changes in equity markets and interest rates, will likely have the least amount of noise in its results. Finally, we expect the Q3/09 to be marked with credit hits (although not nearly as high as in previous quarters) as companies continue to increase default provisions as bonds are downgraded and credit conditions – at least in the eyes of the rating agencies (often the last to move) – remain uncertain.

• Focus will be on underlying earnings. For Q3/09, we expect this to be $0.49 for GWO, $0.60 for IAG, $0.50 for MFC, and $0.72 for SLF. We expect SLF to provide some sort of clarification as to what the underlying earnings are/will be going forward.

• Modestly trimming 2010 EPS estimates – largely due to currency. We reduced our 2010E EPS estimates by $0.05 for MFC and SLF and $0.04 for GWO, largely to reflect the impact of currency. In keeping with Scotia Economics’ recent move, we bumped our average Canadian dollar estimate for 2010 to US$0.98 (from US$0.96) and £0.59 (from £0.56), and are keeping it at ¥87.

• While it could be argued to wait on the group until we get a quarter with good earnings visibility that further reinforces that underlying earnings are not only achievable, but more importantly beatable, we think it’s better to be early. We know lifecos are complicated enough as it is, and noisy quarters make it worse. And while it can be argued we need to wait for good earnings visibility, one could argue it’s better to be early, especially given the fact that equity markets continue to climb, and, perhaps even more importantly, long-term interest rates are climbing, which is clearly a positive for the group. In the last two weeks, U.S. long-term corporate A and AA yields have increased 25 basis points (bp), Canadian long-term provincial bond yields have increased 16 bp, and Canadian and U.S. long-term treasury yields have increased 20 bp. There are signs of momentum in the group as well. While Canadian lifecos have underperformed the U.S. lifecos and the Canadian banks by 30% and 5%, respectively, in the last three months, they have outperformed in the last 30 days, bettering the U.S. lifecos by 2% and the Canadian banks by 6%. And finally, they’re still very attractive relative to these other financials. There’s still a significant discount between the Canadian Lifecos (10x 2010E EPS) and where they historically trade vis-à-vis the U.S. lifecos (Canadian lifecos currently at a 4% premium on a P/E basis, well below the average 13% premium) and the banks (Canadian lifecos are at a 20% discount, well below the 1% discount average).

Great-West Lifeco Inc.
1-Sector Outperform – $31 one-year target, based on 2.3x 9/30/10E BVPS and 12.2x 2010E EPS
• We’re looking for EPS of $0.43 for Q3/09, $0.05 below consensus, with underlying EPS of $0.49. Our 2010 EPS estimate is $2.30, $0.02 below consensus.
• Should be a relatively clean quarter – unlike the other lifecos. GWO is the least sensitive in the group to changes in equity markets and interest rates
• Still some minor credit hits (we estimate $0.09 in EPS), largely related to U.K. hybrids, but should be of less concern as market values of these securities continue to climb.
• Good sales momentum in Canada likely to continue.
• Putnam margins likely to remain under pressure, but net sales could be encouraging (expect them to be negative US$1B-$US1.5B, the best they've been since early 2008)

Industrial-Alliance Insurance and Financial Services Inc.
2-Sector Perform – $33 one-year target, based on 1.5x 9/30/10E BVPS and 10.3x 2010E EPS
• We’re looking for EPS of $0.61 in Q3/09, $0.05 below consensus, with underlying EPS of $0.60. Our 2010 EPS estimate is $3.00, $0.16 above consensus.
• No credit hits expected, primarily based on IAG’s “Canada only” asset portfolio.
• Expect no Q3/09 EPS hit from declining interest rates (IAG is the most sensitive by far) – but keeping a close eye particularly on long-term Quebec bond yields – which have declined 28 bp in Q3/09. The fact that these rates have climbed 18 bp since Sep 30 is encouraging, but if they remain flat through Dec 31/09 we'd expect a $0.30 EPS hit.
• Sales likely to remain weak but could be plateauing.

Manulife Financial Corporation
1-Sector Outperform – $28 one-year target, based on 1.7x 9/30/10E BVPS and 11.0x 2010E EPS
• We are looking for EPS of $0.34 for Q3/09, $0.04 below consensus, with underlying EPS of $0.50. Our 2010E EPS estimate is $2.30, $0.11 above consensus.
• A noisy quarter. We expect an estimated $0.81 EPS gain from equity markets will be offset by $0.92 EPS charge due to actuarial reserve assumption adjustments, which include $0.30 EPS in pre-announced lapse rate assumption changes on VA business and an estimated $0.62 EPS in reserve assumption changes related to declining interest rates
• The recent rise in long term Corporate rates (Corporate A rates up 23 bp since Sep 30) is very positive for MFC.
• We expect to hear more about steps the company is taking to mitigate the sensitivity of the company’s capital to changes in equity markets. The new structure we believe will reduce MCCSR sensitivity such that a 10% drop in equity markets will reduce the MCCSR ratio by 13% (new structure) as opposed to 20% (old structure).
• Sales will likely remain mixed. Strong in Asia but weak in the U.S.

Sun Life Financial Inc.
2-Sector Perform – $37 one-year target, based on 1.3x 9/30/10E BVPS and 11.0x 2010E EPS
• We are looking for Q3/09 EPS loss of $0.06, $0.05 above consensus, with underlying EPS of $0.72. Our 2010E EPS estimate of $3.10 is in line with consensus.
• Another messy quarter – a lot of moving parts. We estimate a $0.90 EPS hit for reserve assumption changes related to new actuarial guidelines (affect SLF only), $0.06 EPS hit for declining interest rates, $0.25 EPS credit hits, offset by $0.36 EPS in equity market gains and $0.07 EPS gain from narrowing credit spreads.
• Company track record continues to make us a little nervous with respect to credit – we look for $0.25 EPS in credit-related hits.
• Looking for some “guidance” as to what is sustainable EPS.
• U.S. sales momentum likely to continue.