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3 financial stocks to buy and 3 to avoid for the rest of 2016

With the end of the reporting season having passed, now’s a perfect time to take a quick recap of the companies in the financial sector that have surprised to the upside and downside.

The sector as a whole was a little disappointing this year. Taken against a negative 5% return for the S&P/ASX 200 since the start of August, there were roughly the same amount of companies that performed better and worse than the mean.

3 Disappointing Financial Stocks

Insurance Australia Group Ltd (AX: IAG) shares have fallen an ugly 12% since the start of August, driven by a disappointing full-year result where Gross Written Premiums (GWP) fell 0.6%, Net Profit After Tax (NPAT) fell 14%, and dividends per share fell 10%. Despite Warren Buffett investing in the company last year, I’m avoiding it until the industry dynamics improve.

In very similar circumstances to its peer above, QBE Insurance Group Ltd (ASX: QBE) had a terrible August, down 13% over the period, as it reported flat GWP, cash profit after tax down 39%, cash return on equity fell from 8.6% to 5.6%, while it increased the dividend by 5% to 21 cents per share. QBE’s board have guided to a much better 2017 after removing some poorly-performing management, however the company will need much more than that to appease long-suffering shareholders.

Medibank Private Ltd (ASX: MPL) shares were decimated in August following the release of an earnings report that finally showed the group’s momentum was unsustainable. Here’s the crux of the issue: “Despite a legislated premium increase of 6.59%, Medibank’s premiums only rose 5.1% due to customers downgrading their level of coverage. Additionally, Medibank’s total customer numbers declined 2.6%, suggesting the group lost market share or more people dropped their health insurance entirely (or both). The worst part is that policyholder numbers were only down 0.6% in the six months to December 2015, so the decline has accelerated in the second half of the year.”

3 Quality Financial Stocks

Shares in debt collector and small loan provider Credit Corp Group Limited (ASX: CCP) are 49% higher than three months ago following a bumper year where the group reported a net profit of $45.9 million on revenues of $226.7 million. The net profit and revenues were up 20% and 19% over the prior financial year. Debt collection is a risky business and companies have regularly turned a great year into a terrible one, so investors need to be careful.

Steadfast Group Ltd (ASX: SDF) performed strongly over the month following the release of a full-year report that appeared to show solid integration of recent acquisitions – The Calliden and QBE agencies. Underlying earnings before interest, tax and amortisation (EBITA) increased 43%. However some analysts were concerned that organic growth came in at just 6%, and that organic premium growth came in at only 1.5%. This will be a statistic to watch in a tough industry.

Challenger Ltd (ASX: CGF) shareholders were big winners in the reporting season as the company revealed a normalised net profit of $362 million, up 8 per cent over the prior year, and total annuity sales of $3.4 billion, up an impressive 22% over the prior year. Challenger’s massive year was as a result of a big second half where annuity sales rocketed 45% over the prior corresponding half due to a significant ramp up in advertising spending and greater demand for income-bearing products.

Where to invest $1,000 right now

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Scott just revealed what he believes are the five best ASX stocks for investors to buy right now. These stocks are trading at dirt-cheap prices and Scott thinks they are great buys right now.

*Returns as of June 30th

Motley Fool contributor Andrew Mudie owns shares of QBE Insurance Group Ltd. 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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