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The Beginners’ Portfolio is a virtual portfolio, run as if based on real money with all costs, spreads and dividends accounted for. Transactions made for the portfolio are for educational purposes only and don’t constitute advice to buy or sell.

When Aviva (LSE: AV) announced the takeover of Friend Life, some investors doubted its wisdom at an important stage in Aviva’s restructuring. But they needn’t have worried, as full year results released on 10 March told us that the integration has “gone faster and better than expected“. The insurer now expects to achieve its “target of £225 million integration synergies in 2016, one year ahead of schedule“.

Operating profit gained 20% with the value of new business up 24%, so Aviva has now put in 12 consecutive quarters of growth — a pretty impressive recovery from the bad old days when the company was forced to slashed its overstretched dividend. Speaking of which, Aviva upped its dividend by 15% to 20.8p per share.

Although the share price had been falling this year, the results gave its recent recovery an extra boost to take it up 20% from its 1 February low to 476p.

Since buying at 321p in March 2013, we’re now up 61% including all dividends. With forecasts suggesting a P/E this year of 10.7, dropping to 9.6 on 2017 forecasts, and with predicted dividend yields of 4.8% and 5.6%, respectively, the shares are still cheap.

Dividend slashed

I was taken by surprise when Barclays (LSE: BARC) said it would slash its dividend by more than 50% starting in 2016. But that didn’t seem to faze the institutions who presumably welcomed clarity on how the bank is going to fund the further penalties for misdeeds that most are expecting. The shares dipped on results day, but quickly recovered. Today they’re 10% up from their low of 11 February, at 163.5p.

The big shadow on Barclays’ future is cast by those unknown possible future fines, and the bank is under investigation in several countries for possible misbehaviour in addition to the final acts in the PPI mis-selling saga. Barclays has so far set aside £7.4bn to cover PPI liabilities, including a further £1.45bn in Q4.

But with shares now on a P/E for this year of under nine, falling to under seven based on 2017 forecasts, there’s a huge helping of pessimism built into the share price. Though we’re down 34% on Barclays after dividends, I think it would be a mistake to sell now.

Building up

Results from housebuilder Persimmon (LSE: PSN) presented no surprises, with the firm boasting of an “outstanding performance for the year“. Everything was up — completions up 8%, average selling price up 4.5%, revenue up 13%, pre-tax profit up 34%, operating margin up from 18.4% to 21.9%, and net cash up from £378m a year previously to £570.4m.  And all that cash is making its way to shareholders via a 110p per share payment on 1 April.

Five years of super growth in earnings per share (EPS) has sent the shares soaring to 2,026p since Persimmon joined the portfolio in July 2012. We’re now up 255% including dividends to make this our best performer by far — helping the overall portfolio to a 36% gain since first purchase in May 2012.

But EPS growth is set to slow, so is it time to take profits? No! The shares are on forward P/E multiples of 11.6 this year and 10.6 next, with the current rate of cash return generating yields of 5.4%, and that sounds more like a buy than a sell.

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Alan Oscroft owns shares in Aviva. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Barclays. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.