Should I Invest In Legal & General Group Plc?

Can Legal & General Group Plc’s (LON: LGEN) total return beat the wider market?

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To me, capital growth and dividend income are equally important. Together, they provide the total return from any share investment and, as you might expect, my aim is to invest in companies that can beat the total return delivered by the wider market.

To put that aim into perspective, the FTSE 100 has provided investors with a total return of around 3% per annum since January 2008.

Quality and value

If my investments are to outperform, I need to back companies that score well on several quality indicators and buy at prices that offer decent value.

So this series aims to identify appealing FTSE 100 investment opportunities and today I’m looking at Legal & General Group (LSE: LGEN), the life insurance and financial services company.

With the shares at 198p, Legal & General’s market cap. is £11,719 million.

This table summarises the firm’s recent financial record:

Year to December 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Revenue (£m) 5,895 5,275 5,348 5,719 5668
Net cash from operations (£m) 1,086 758 2,707 1,557 2,799
Adjusted earnings per share (17.88p) 14.82p 14.07p 12.42p 13.9p
Dividend per share 4.06p 3.84p 4.75p 6.4p 7.65p

Legal & General’s share price has been shooting upwards since 2009 and the recent interim-results statement confirmed why that is: with double-digit growth in sales, cash, operating profits and profit after tax, things couldn’t be going better.

Last year, the firm earned around 66% of its operating profit from insurance and annuities, 22% from investment management and 12% from savings products, and generated revenue worldwide from mature businesses in Britain, the US, France, and the Netherlands, and from up-and-coming fast-growing businesses in places like the Persian Gulf, India, Egypt and Asia.

The directors see current moves by banks to reduce the gearing of their balance sheets as one source of opportunity. Reduced banking capacity means that Legal & General can move into the market to soak up ‘lonely’ potential banking customers with its investment and savings offerings.

The firm is obviously doing a lot of things right just now, and that makes me optimistic about the total-return potential for investors.

Legal & General’s total-return potential

Let’s examine five indicators to help judge the quality of the company’s total-return potential:

1. Dividend cover: adjusted earnings covered last year’s dividend just over 1.8 times.  3/5

2. Borrowings: gearing with regard to core borrowings is running at around 60%. 3/

3. Growth: strong cash flow supports rising earnings and flat-looking revenue. 4/5

4. Price to earnings: a forward 12 reflects growth and yield expectations.  3/5

5. Outlook: robust recent trading and a positive outlook.   5/5

Overall, I score Legal & General 18 out of 25, which encourages me to believe the firm has potential to out-pace the wider market’s total return, going forward.

Foolish Summary

A good track record of financial growth underpins a satisfactory scoring against my quality and value indicators. Both recent trading and the outlook are good. There’s a 5% forward dividend yield on offer and, if I had a few spare quid, I’d probably chuck them at Legal and General on any temporary share-price weakness.

That said, I’ve isolated several great-looking investment opportunities for my ‘hot’ list recently, and one of them is a share that one of the Fool’s top investment writers has uncovered. He has put his money where his mouth is by investing and believes the share is the “Motley Fool’s Top Growth Share for 2013”. In this new Fool report, you can discover how the firm has re-envisioned itself to allow for tremendous growth along new horizons. Right now, the report is free to download and tells you exactly why our expert has invested in, and expects strong growth from, this changing company with a strong pedigree. To get your copy, click here.

> Kevin does not own shares in Legal & General Group.

Should you invest, the value of your investment may rise or fall and your capital is at risk. Before investing, your individual circumstances should be assessed. Consider taking independent financial advice.

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