This growth was led by non-participatory and annuity products (Hemant Mishra/Mint)
This growth was led by non-participatory and annuity products (Hemant Mishra/Mint)

Among out of favour financial stocks, life insurers are shining

  • Growth in retail insurance sales of non-participatory products has made the portfolio more stable and increased margins
  • The growth in retail insurance sales of non-participatory products has made the portfolio of life insurers more stable and increased margins

Selling life insurance has never been easy, but getting investors to buy their stocks is becoming all too easy for life insurers. A booming business and a growing market share have led to big gains for the three listed life insurance companies in India.

Shares of HDFC Life Insurance Co. Ltd and SBI Life Insurance Co. Ltd have surged 33.59% and 37.37%, respectively, so far this year. Even ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Co. Ltd hasn’t fared badly, with returns of 19.14%, although its growth in the past two quarters has been wanting. In comparison, the Nifty Financial Services index has risen about 4.27% in 2019.

There are several factors that seem to have worked for life insurance companies. But, Nomura Financial Advisory and Securities (India) Pvt. Ltd highlighted the main reason.

“Private insurers (excluding ICICI Prudential Life) continue to deliver robust growth in spite of volatile markets; this, coupled with increasing protection share in the business mix, justifies the re-rating in the last four months, in our view," it said in a note to clients.

In the first four months of FY20, private sector insurers saw 23% new business growth in retail, in terms of annualized premium equivalent, even as the overall industry growth was 15%, primarily due to Life Insurance Corporation of India’s (LIC’s) 5.5% growth.

This growth was led by non-participatory and annuity products.

Aggressive marketing of term plans in the past two years has helped HDFC Life and even its peers corner market share from the country’s largest life insurer, LIC.

“Shrinking profitability of linked business has made it a mere revenue driver, edging players to move towards non-linked products (protection, annuities and return-guarantee) for profitability," said Jefferies India Pvt. Ltd in a note.

The growth in retail insurance sales of non-participatory products has made the portfolio of life insurers more stable and increased margins.

Life insurance stocks are likely to continue to enjoy investor attention over the next few quarters, too, though analysts warned that the profitability metrics may have peaked for some firms.

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