(By Balaseshan) CIBC Capital Markets analyst Robert Sedran upgraded rating of Manulife Financial Corp. (NYSE: MFC) (TSE: MFC) to "Sector Outperformer" from "Sector Performer" and raised price target to C$16 from C$15.
Manulife Financial reported fourth-quarter earnings per share (EPS) of C$0.56, compared to a loss of C$0.05 per share in the previous year quarter. Core EPS rose to C$0.28 from C$0.19. Total revenue fell to C$7.2 billion from C$9.7 billion.
Sedran said the company's headline EPS of C$0.56 was well above his estimate of C$0.35 and consensus of C$0.32. However, on a core basis, results were lower versus his expectation of C$0.31. Owing to the strong headline earnings, book value climbed 4% to C$12.56.
The variance to the analyst's numbers was driven by higher new business strain and higher hedging costs. Strain was driven in part by exceptionally strong wealth management sales that are likely to persist, while hedging costs climbed as MFC moved to further lower its equity sensitivity.
The shares have done well over the last six months due to a better multiple. While Sedran believes gain from here will be more gradual, he expects them to come. Sales was very strong across all segments, and he expects that strength to increasingly be reflected in earnings along with cost savings.
"MFC is our choice among the lifecos due to a better valuation, the benefits from a large and growing platform in Asia and the fact that ongoing restructuring provides potential upside," Sedran concluded.
The brokerage lowered its 2013 EPS estimate to C$1.33 from C$1.41 and its 2014 estimate to C$1.52 from C$1.56.
MFC is trading up 1.16% at $14.78 on NYSE, and up 1.72% at C$14.80 on TSE.