MetLife fell 2.4 percent to $35.08 at 12 p.m. in New York. Steven Schwartz, an equity analyst at Raymond James, lowered his rating on the stock to “market perform” from “strong buy” after the New York-based insurer rose 15 percent in the first eight trading days of 2012. Prudential Financial Inc. (PRU), the No. 2 U.S. life insurer, gained 10 percent in the period, while Lincoln National Corp. climbed 11 percent.
The MetLife recommendation reflects “a relative lack of upside, following strong share price outperformance, compared with the shares of other life insurers,” Schwartz said in a note to clients today. Prudential slipped 1.2 percent today and Lincoln fell 3.2 percent.
MetLife Chief Executive Officer Steven Kandarian, 59, is weighing scaling back or exiting businesses to meet targets for shareholder returns as interest rates near record lows pressure results. The firm announced a deal with General Electric Co.’s finance unit last month to divest most of the deposits at MetLife Bank and this month disclosed plans to shut a mortgage business. The moves are part of an effort to limit regulation by the Federal Reserve.
MetLife said in October that the Fed had rejected a proposal to raise its dividend and resume share buybacks. The insurer is subject to the oversight because of the company’s size and ownership of the bank.
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