February 4, 2011

2010 Q4 Earnings, Week Three: Advisor Universe Sees Mixed Results

It’s a stock picker’s market, and dividends are a common theme

As fourth-quarter 2010 entered its third week, companies of interest to financial advisors reported a mixed bag of results, and many managed to announce a dividend.

Strong wealth management results and higher fees and commissions often helped boost earnings for insurance companies as well as pure-play asset management firms.

“The results are very mixed,” said Tim Holland, a portfolio manager with Aston/TAMRO Diversified Equity Fund, in an interview on Thursday. “If you owned Hartford, you had a good day, if you owned Genworth the last couple of days, you’re in a lot of trouble.”

While Ameriprise and Genworth were off sharply in the stock market, insurance companies such as The Hartford and Lincoln reported good numbers and saw an uptick, Holland noted.

“It shows that investors are very discriminating now. It’s really about fundamental execution,” he said. “With Genworth, there are questions about credit quality and asset performance. Ameriprise had a very unpleasant number relative to expectations. Hartford and Lincoln reported good numbers. These are signs of a stock-picking market.”

Standard & Poor’s “marketweight” recommendation on the finance sector certainly reflects its mixed nature this quarter, compared with S&P’s overweight opinion on industrials and information technology and its underweight opinions on the health care and utilities sectors.

For example, The Hartford is sitting on excess capital and may announce a share buyback later in the year, but Genworth saw a disappointing quarter, said S&P insurance analyst Bret Howlett in an interview on Thursday.

“Overall, the retirement business at Genworth is fine, but they’re having mixed results in other areas such as long-term care and term life, which is putting a strain on the company,” Howlett said. “But there has been a reserve increase on long-term care, and sales are strong. I suspect Genworth will do well on long-term care as other companies pull back from it.”

The biggest company in the financial advisor universe to report earnings this week, Ameriprise (AMP), missed estimates on Wednesday as average fees and commissions for advisors rose 21% with weaker FAs leaving the firm. Fourth-quarter 2010 net income was $305 million, or $1.18 per share, versus $237 million, or $0.90, for the fourth quarter of 2009. Analysts had expected the company to earn $1.31 per share and revenue of $2.67 billion.

The total number of Ameriprise financial advisors declined by 554 to 11,482 in December 2010 from 12,036 in December 2009  by 126 from 11,608 in September 2010. The number of employee advisors dropped to 7,488 from 7,658, while the number of franchise or independent advisors fell to 9,656 from 10,103.

The asset management and advice and wealth management units had operating net revenues of $2.6 billion, up 19% from $2.2 billion a year ago “due to growth in asset-based fees driven by the Columbia Management acquisition, market appreciation and retail client net inflows, as well as increased client activity levels,” the company said in a press release.

Despite the earnings miss, Ameriprise declared a quarterly cash dividend of $0.18 per common share—reflecting a theme of stock dividends being announced by a good number of companies. This week, along with Ameriprise, The Hartford, Symetra and Calamos all announced dividend. Genworth and Fiserv did not announce dividends.

In mixed earnings news on Wednesday, Hartford and Symetra were up while Genworth was down.

The Hartford (HIG) beat estimates on strong wealth results,  reporting fourth-quarter 2010 net income late Wednesday of $619 million, or $1.24 per share, versus net income of $557 million, or $1.19 per share, a year earlier. Core earnings were $526 million, or $1.06 per share. Analysts had estimated that The Hartford would earn $0.96 per share. The company’s board declared a quarterly dividend of $0.10 per share of common stock, a 100% increase over the prior amount.

Symetra (SYA), meanwhile, nearly doubled its profits. Fourth-quarter net income was $62.2 million, or $0.45 per diluted share, compared with $32.1 million ($0.29 per diluted share) in fourth quarter 2009. Total net income for 2010 was $200.9 million, or $1.48 per diluted share, compared with $128.3 million, or $1.15 per diluted share, in 2009. Cash dividends declared per common share were $ 0 .05 for the quarter and $ 0.15 for the year, compared with 2009 when no dividends were declared.

In an unwelcome surprise, however, Genworth (GNW) on Wednesday reported a $161 million net lossin the fourth quarter due to problems in its mortgage insurance business. The company reported a Q4 2010 net loss of $0.33 per diluted share, compared with net income of $40 million, or $0.08 per diluted share, in the fourth quarter of 2009. Good news, however, came out of the retirement unit, which saw a 7% rise in areas such as long-term care and wealth management.

On Thursday, Fiserv (FISV) reported a modest increase in revenue for the fourth quarter and for full-year 2010, but profits edged down to $116 million, or $0.78 per share, compared with $118 million, or $0.76 per share, in Q4 from 2009. No dividend

Also on Thursday, Calamos (CLMS) reported a 23% jump in profits with net income of $5.8 million, or $0.28 per diluted share, from $4.7 million, or $0.23 per diluted share a year ago. Revenues stood at $86 million and assets under management (AUM) totaled $35.4 billion. Calamos increased its regular quarterly dividend 2 cents per share to 9.5 cents.

Read a roundup of week two of 2010 Q4 earnings at AdvisorOne.com.

Read AdvisorOne's 2010 Q4 earnings calendar for the financial sector for release dates and links to earnings stories.

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