Which blue-chip insurance shares should you have in your portfolio?

The S&P/ASX 200 (Index: ^AXJO) (ASX: XJO) is blessed with a number of great blue-chip insurance shares. Many of which look like worthy additions to your portfolio.

But having multiple insurance companies in a portfolio exposes you to all sorts of risks, so I feel it would be wise to limit your insurance picks to just one. But which one should you choose out of Insurance Australia Group Ltd (ASX: IAG), QBE Insurance Group Ltd (ASX: QBE), and Suncorp Group Ltd (ASX: SUN)?

Whilst I am a quite bullish on QBE Insurance at the moment, I believe it is Suncorp which could offer investors the best value for money.

Suncorp is the company behind well-known insurance brands such as AAMI, Apia, and GIO. It has provided solid earnings growth in the past five years, as well as consistently paying a market-beating dividend.

The recent announcement of a new operating model should enhance the company’s profitability in the future. It aims to increase customer satisfaction by allowing its customers to manage their financial journey seamlessly across its channels and brands.

Not only is it expected to increase customer satisfaction, management also expects the new operating model to deliver cost efficiencies. With earnings expected to be down this year, this is exactly what the company needs to get things going again.

The market expects earnings to come in around 2% lower this year. This is due in part to the lower insurance trading ratio (a key measure of profitability for insurers), which has fallen down to 10% due to an unexpectedly high increase in claims. I feel this has been reflected in the share price, with a drop of almost 13% in the last three months.

Suncorp’s new CEO Michael Cameron is working towards increasing the insurance trading ratio back towards the company’s target of 12%. I believe by carefully pushing up the premiums of its house and vehicle insurance it could close in on its target.

Looking ahead, analysts appear to be optimistic over its future earnings growth prospects. According to CommSec, the market is expecting earnings to grow by around 7% per annum in fiscal years 2017 and 2018.

The shares are currently priced at close to 14 times earnings at present, which is a big discount to its five-year average of 20 times earnings. I doubt we will see the shares trade at those heights again for some time, but I believe a good second half could certainly catapult the shares higher. Especially with an estimated full-year dividend of 38 cents being on offer.

Despite the fierce competition it faces, I believe Suncorp is well positioned to grow its earnings at a solid rate should Australia and New Zealand stay clear of any major catastrophes.

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Motley Fool contributor James Mickleboro 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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