Trading near a 10-year low: Is QBE Insurance Group Ltd priced to take off?

Credit: Alex Proimos

Despite being the largest ASX-listed global insurer, in recent times the shares of QBE Insurance Group Ltd (ASX: QBE) would seem to have lost the interest of many investors.

In contrast, domestically-focussed insurer Insurance Australia Group Ltd (ASX: IAG) has even managed to garner the backing of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, with the conglomerate taking a stake in IAG at $5.57 per share in June last year.

The seeming lack of investor appetite for QBE is not particularly surprising considering the horrendous performance of the group over the past decade.

In fact, according to data supplied by Morningstar, the total shareholder returns (TSR) from QBE over each timeframe of three, five and ten years is negative!

Thankfully for long-suffering shareholders the past 12 months haven’t been as bad, with a TSR of 3.7%.

Could better times lie ahead?

The weak earnings performance from the group which has in turn led to the weak share price performance no doubt has left many investors viewing the stock as an “avoid”.

However, with the share price closing on Tuesday at $10.83 (which is not far from both its 52-week low and its decade low), investors with a nose for value should arguably be taking a closer look.

Indeed, based on analyst consensus forecasts, earnings per share are expected to rise from 68 cents per share (cps) in 2014, to 83 cps in 2015 (QBE operates on a calendar year basis), to 103 cps in 2016 and then to 114 cps in 2017.

Utilising the consensus forecast for 2016, this implies a price-to-earnings ratio of 10.5x, which represents a significant discount to its peers.

Of course, the nature of most property and casualty insurance businesses is that unexpected events can have a dramatic effect on earnings in any given year. As a result, accurately forecasting the earnings of an insurer can be particularly problematic.

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Motley Fool contributor Tim McArthur has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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