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Willis Towers Rides on Strategic Buyouts & Strong Cash Flow

Willis Towers Watson Public Limited Company WLTW is well-poised to gain from constant top-line growth and sound capital position.

The company has an impressive earnings surprise history. It surpassed estimates in each of the trailing four quarters, the average beat being 2.33%.

The Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2020 and 2021 earnings per share is pegged at $11.24 and $11.92, indicating an improvement of 2.6% and 6%, respectively, from the year-ago reported figure.

Shares of this Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) company have gained 12.3% in a year, compared with the industry’s growth of 3.7%.

Factors at Play

Organic growth across the company’s segments has been driving Willis Towers’ revenues, which witnessed CAGR of 18.9% over the last five years (2014-2019). Notably, organic growth was 4% in the first quarter based on which revenues improved nearly 7% year over year. However, the top line is likely to remain under pressure for the balance of 2020, primarily due to financial turmoil induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. The company also repealed guidance for 2020 subsequent to the coronavirus outbreak.

Moreover, Willis Towers has been on an acquisition spree aimed at providing enhanced services and expanding its global foothold. In March of this year, Willis Towers and Aon plc AON entered into an agreement to merge in an all-stock deal, which is anticipated to provide data-driven insights for creating new sources of client value. Expected to close in the first half of 2021, we believe the transaction is likely to help both the companies in serving their clients more efficiently.

Furthermore, the company’s improved liquidity position has resulted in a strong balance sheet and cash flows. Willis Towers has sufficient cash reserves to meet its short-term debt obligations. Evidently, cash and cash equivalents were $898 million as of Mar 31, 2020, while current debt amounted to $697 million for the same period. Cash flow from operations was $23 million in the first quarter against cash used in operations of $47 million in the year-ago quarter. This is indicative of the company’s strong solvency position.

By virtue of its financial position, we believe that Willis Towers engages in capital deployment in the form of share buybacks and dividend payouts. Its dividend payments witnessed CAGR of 16.7% over the last five years (2014-2019). However, the company recently suspended buyback activity for the remainder of 2020.

We remain concerned about high costs incurred at Willis Towers, which increased 7.8% year over year in the first quarter. Such costs are likely to put pressure on margins going forward.

Stocks to Consider

Some better-ranked stocks in the insurance space are The Allstate Corporation ALL and Amerisafe, Inc. AMSF, both carrying a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

Allstate and Amerisafe surpassed estimates in the last reported quarter by 13.46% and 20.55%, on average, respectively.

Zacks’ Single Best Pick to Double

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This young company’s gigantic growth was hidden by low-volume trading, then cut short by the coronavirus. But its digital products stand out in a region where the internet economy has tripled since 2015 and looks to triple again by 2025.

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