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Get Value And Growth With This Little-Known Stock

Karen Canella

When I was in elementary school, we called a student who got good grades, stayed out of trouble and embraced his or her position as teacher's pet "Goody Two-shoes."

With that in mind, I'd like to introduce you to a company I like to consider the Goody Two-shoes of insurance companies. It takes few risks, performs admirably and is well liked by some of the most upstanding clients around.

Founded in 1945 by two Illinois schoolteachers, Horace Mann Educators (NYSE: HMN) is an $8.5 billion national multi-line insurance company. Just about every penny comes from public K-12 teachers, administrators and their families in the U.S., a market expected to grow 14% by 2020. The auto, property and casualty segment represents 52% of Horace Mann's business, with commission-generating annuities and life insurance accounting for 39% and 9%, respectively.

About 6 million teachers, administrators and support personnel worked in K-12 in the U.S. in 2012. Another 413,000 college students are planning to become teachers, and 1.2 million are retired. That's a big, loyal, responsible, insurance-buying market that blesses Horace Mann with higher-than-average retention rates, a low rate of paid claims and steady growth of its annuity and life insurance products.

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The company gets an A-plus on its third-quarter 2013 figures. Its $8.5 billion in total assets as of Sept. 30, a 4.9% year-over-year increase, is supported mainly by a 17.2% increase in annuity income and an 18.4% increase in life insurance income.

Those numbers look great, but what about competition? Horace Mann certainly has its share of general competition with the likes of Allstate (NYSE: ALL), Travelers (NYSE: TRV) and other insurers. However, Horace Mann's roots are firmly planted among teaching communities, and its competitors haven't made a concerted effort to enter its territory.

Because many former educators still active as PTA members or school board members have become independent agents for Horace Mann, they're on the grounds in more than half of the country's public schools. It's a tight-knit community of professionals who take each other's words as gospel, so Horace Mann agents are likely preaching to the choir on many occasions.

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The key to keeping Horace Mann's competition at bay is the constant maintenance of close relationships with school districts and teachers organizations. No other insurance company has even tried to impede on this niche, a factor that serves Horace Mann well in the face of potential price wars from larger companies.
The fact that premiums grew 4% in third quarter 2013 on a year-over-year basis to $152.5 million is proof the strategy is working. Retention rates remain solid at 85% in auto and 89% in property. Those numbers, along with strong growth in annuities and life insurance as well as lower-than-expected paid catastrophe claims, prompted the company to increase its full-year earnings guidance from $1.95 to $2.05 a share.

The stock is up 43% this year to date and 59% over the past 12 months. On top of steady growth and healthy earnings, HMN delivers a 2.7% dividend. That's supported by a 28% payout ratio, so management has room to boost the dividend. Currently trading above its 50- and 200-day moving averages, HMN has momentum heading into 2014.

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Risks to Consider: Horace Mann's narrow focus can also be a negative in the event budget cuts and reduced funding for public school districts lead to layoffs. The company doesn't currently have plans to broaden its scope, but it plans to fine-tune its products within education next year.

Action to Take --> HMN met resistance after hitting its high for the year on Oct. 21 of $31.03, pulling back some 10% over the next 10 days. I'd buy the stock once it resumes momentum at that Oct. 21 level.

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