Willis Towers Watson Public Limited Company WLTW is well placed to gain from growing new business, sound capital position and prudent capital deployment.
The stock has seen its estimates for 2020 and 2021 move up nearly 1.9% and 2.1%, respectively in the past 30 days, reflecting investor optimism. The company delivered an earnings surprise in each of the last four reported quarters with the average beat being 4.82%.
The Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2020 and 2021 earnings per share is pegged at $11.45 and $12.13, indicating year-over-year improvement of 4.4% and 5.8%, respectively. It has a favorable Growth Score of B. This style score identifies growth prospects of a company.
Factors Driving Willis Towers
Willis Towers Watson remains focused on operational enhancements to drive margin expansion. In a bid to drive sustainable long-term growth, it invests in client solutions and technology. It focuses on creating value for clients and shareholders through integrated focus.
Willis Towers Watson continues to benefit from higher revenues, which grew at a five-year (2014-2019) CAGR of 18.9%, driven by higher commissions and fees. We believe solid customer retention levels and growing new business are likely to drive revenues. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for the company’s 2020 and 2021 revenues is pegged at $9.28 billion and $9.70 billion, respectively, indicating an increase of 2.7% and 4.5% year over year.
Strong revenues have been aiding margin expansion. In the second quarter, net margin expanded 110 basis points year over year.
The insurance broker pursues strategic mergers and acquisitions to expand its geographical footprint and strengthen its product portfolio. The acquisition of TRANZACT in July 2019 consolidated Willis Towers Watson’s position as the leader in the growing Medicare market space.
Furthermore, it remains focused on growing free cash flow to maximize financial flexibility, liquidity and shareholder value. In the first half of 2020, free cash flow surged 201% year over year, driven by significant working capital improvement. The company intends to utilize the cash to reinvest in their businesses and processes, invest in new business opportunities, pursue opportunistic mergers, acquisitions, strengthen balance sheet and liquidity, return excess cash to shareholders through share repurchase and finally to sustain dividends and payout ratio.
Willis Towers’ improved liquidity has led to a solid balance sheet. Though the company’s current debt was $525 million as of Jun 30, 2020, cash and cash equivalents totaled $1.1 million along with full capacity in undrawn $1.25 billion revolving credit facility at second-quarter end. This suggests that the company has sufficient cash reserves to meet its short-term debt obligations.
Willis Towers Watson increased its dividend at a six-year (2014-2020) CAGR of 14.6% and currently yields 1.3%. As of Jun 30, 2020, approximately $500 million remained on the current repurchase authority.
In March 2020, Willis Towers and Aon plc AON entered into an agreement to merge in an all-stock deal, which is anticipated to provide data-driven insights for creating new sources of client value. The combined entity will cater to clients across risk, retirement and health businesses. This acquisition is the insurance sector's largest deal, combining the world’s two leading insurance brokers.
Shares of this Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) insurance broker have outperformed the industry year to date. The stock has gained 2% against the industry’s decline of 0.7%. We expect operational efficiencies, investment in new growth avenues and an effective capital deployment to drive shares higher in the near term.
Stocks to Consider
Some better-ranked stocks in the insurance space are eHealth, Inc. EHTH and The Allstate Corporation ALL, each carrying a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.
eHealth provides private health insurance exchange services to individuals, families, and small businesses in the United States and China. It surpassed estimates in each of the last four quarters, with the average surprise being 82.02%.
Allstate provides property and casualty, and other insurance products in the United States and Canada. It surpassed estimates in each of the last four quarters, with the average surprise being 25.24%.
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