MetLife's Third Quarter Flat, Investment Losses Hurt

MetLife, the largest U.S. life insurer, said on Wednesday that net earnings per share were barely changed for the third quarter, as it suffered investment losses, but operating net beat
analysts' estimates.

Net earnings of $985 million, or $1.29 a share, compared with $999 million, or $1.29 a share, in the year-ago quarter.

By contrast, operating earnings rose more than 21 percent to $1.16 billion, or $1.52 a share, from $958 million, or $1.24 a share, over the same period. Analysts on average had expected $1.40 a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

Investment losses for the quarter were $215 million. It had hedge fund losses of $25 million, after taxes, in its investment portfolio, that it attributed to the "unusual volatility in the equity and fixed income markets."

The losses seemed small to analysts, who noted the company had total assets of more than $500 billion.

"A couple of 'marked-to-market' assets are immaterial to their business," said Matt Nellans, an analyst with Morningstar.

More important was that the book value of the company rose 12 percent to $42.88 a share.

MetLife did not change its 2007 outlook from the second quarter, when it raised its operating earnings forecast to a range of $5.65 to $5.80 a share.

In aftermarket trading, MetLife's shares edged lower to $68.80 after ending 21 cents higher at $68.85 on the New York Stock Exchange. In the last 12 months MetLife rose about 18 percent compared with about a 2 percent gain for the Standard & Poor's insurance index.