Which Is Best For 2016, Aviva plc, Legal & General Group Plc Or Old Mutual plc?

We’ve had a slightly better few days for the FTSE 100 this week, with the UK’s top index briefly breaking the 6,000 barrier on Friday, though it’s still some way below the 7,123 points it managed in early 2015. Such volatile times are hard on financial shares, and it’s not just the banks — our insurance firms have had a rocky ride too. But I reckon it’s thrown up some bargains.

Shares in Aviva (LSE: AV) are down 20% over the past 12 months, but they’ve blipped up a bit in the past week. From a low of 400p on 11 February, Aviva shares now trade at 440p. That puts them on a forward P/E of a mere 8.9 based on forecasts for 2016, which to my mind is just too low for a company that’s going to hold a lot of clout after its takeover of Friends Life.

Perhaps investors are nervous ahead of results for the year just ended, which are due on 10 March and are predicted to show an 8% drop in earnings per share. But analysts are also calling a 4.8% dividend yield for 2015, with an even tastier 5.5% pencilled-in for this year. At such a low valuation and with such strong dividends from a company that’s coming successfully through a restructuring phase, it’s no surprise that the tipsters have Aviva as an overwhelming buy. I agree, and I’m in.

Bigger dividends

The picture is very similar at Legal & General (LSE: LGEN) with an 18% price fall over 12 months, but an upwards tick over the past week to 223p. L&G has also been on something of a restructuring course over the past year, though it has enjoyed three years of 10% EPS growth — and 2015 results due on 15 March are predicted to bring in a further 14% to put the shares on a P/E of 11.7.

That multiple would drop to 11 if the mooted 7% EPS rise in 2016 comes off, so L&G shares are more highly valued than Aviva’s. But the firm’s superior dividend, with a yield of 6% predicted for 2015 followed by 6.4% this year, should mean the shares will be popping up on many an income investor’s radar this year. There’s a slightly less strong buy consensus out there for Legal & General, but again I’m bullish.

Overseas risk

Old Mutual (LSE: OML) shares have been hit the hardest of these three and are on a P/E based on 2016 forecasts of only 8.6, even with a 5.7% dividend yield on the cards. The share price has fallen by 20% in a year, similar to the other two, but again it’s perked up a bit this week, to 173p. Old Mutual has been on a lower rating than its peers for a couple of years, thanks to its greater focus on emerging markets including its ownership of Nedbank in South Africa.

But expectations for 2015, with results out on 11 March, still suggest a solid 10% EPS growth. Analysts are more reticent about Old Mutual, but I think their caution is overblown. It’s probably my least favourite of these three due to the extra bit of risk, but I still rate the shares as a buy and I see a good year ahead.

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Alan Oscroft owns shares in Aviva. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.