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Aon (AON) Enhances Shareholders' Value Through Share Buybacks

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Zacks Equity Research
·4 min read
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Aon plc’s AON board of directors recently authorized a new share buyback program worth $5 billion in a bid to return more value to shareholders. Shares of Aon have gained 2.3% in the last day’s trading as of Nov 23.

The company has a strong history of returning value to shareholders via share buybacks since its Repurchase Program with an initial authorization of $5 billion was inaugurated in April 2012. Following the same, the authorization was further enhanced by $5 billion each in November 2014 and June 2017, respectively, thereby taking the total to $15 billion.

The company has been active in buying back shares. Case in point, Aon has bought back 133.4 million shares worth around $13.9 billion under the Repurchase Program. The latest $5 billion share buyback program announced strengthens the existing Repurchase Program, which had around $1.1 billion left for repurchases as of Sep 30, 2020. Notably, Aon aims at buying back all shares left under the current program before resorting to the latest authorized program.

However, its worth mentioning that the COVID-19 induced market volatilities had compelled most insurance companies to temporarily halt their share buyback programs and Aon was no exception to the trend. Nevertheless, as the markets started gradually recovering, Aon recommenced share buybacks in third-quarter 2020. During the first nine months of 2020, Aon has bought back 4.6 million shares worth $963 million, which includes 2.4 million shares bought back for around $500 million in the third quarter.

Not only share buybacks, Aon also remains committed to enhancing shareholder value through dividend hikes. This Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) insurance broker has increased dividends for nine straight years with the latest hike of 5% being announced this year in October. Such initiatives reflect the operational and financial strength of the company.

Also, its return on equity — a profitability measure of how efficiently the company is utilizing its shareholders funds — is 65%, higher than the industry average 27.4%.

A solid financial standing backed by a strong balance sheet and robust cash flows over the years has enabled Aon to support not only growth initiatives such as buyouts and collaborations but has also paved the way for accelerated and prudent capital deployment measures. The company had $821 million in cash and cash equivalents at the end of third-quarter 2020, which improved 3.9% from 2019-end.

Shares of this insurance broker have inched up 1.4% in a year compared with the industry’s rise of 3.6%. Moreover, we believe the company’s bottom line stands well-poised to gain from numerous growth initiatives, cost-control efforts and strong capital position, which are likely to drive its shares in the days ahead.

Stocks to Consider

Some better-ranked stocks in the same space are Brown & Brown, Inc. BRO, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. AJG and eHealth, Inc. EHTH. While Brown & Brown sports a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy), Arthur J. Gallagher and eHealth carry a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

Brown & Brown, Arthur J. Gallagher and eHealth have a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of 13.91%, 15.79% and 83.27%, on average, respectively.

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