UnitedHealth Posts Narrow Earnings Beat, Shares Fall

UnitedHealth Group
Dawn Villella | Bloomberg News | Getty Images
UnitedHealth Group

UnitedHealth Group, the largest U.S. health insurer, said on Thursday that it kept fourth-quarter 2012 costs under control and increased revenue by more 11 percent, helping earnings per share rise.

The company, which provides health care benefits through both employer and government paid insurance plans and serves the individual and military markets, also backed its forecast for at least 11 percent 2013 revenue growth and said earnings would be in a range of slightly down to up 4 percent.

After the earnings report, UnitedHealth's shares fell more than one percent in pre-market trading. (Click here for the latest before-hours quotes.)

UnitedHealth's business has benefited in recent years as consumers have cut back on medical services because of the weak economy, but the company also has had to adapt to new rules for insurers associated with the 2010 Patient Prevention and Affordable Care Act.

It said that in the fourth-quarter, commercial medical costs were a bit lower than it had expected and that its medical loss ratio, or the percentage of premiums paid for medical expenses, was 80.5 percent. The Affordable Care Act last year began requiring companies to spend at least 80 or 85 percent of premiums on medical care or provide a rebate to customers.

UnitedHealth, which bought 65 percent of Brazil's Amil Participacoes for $3.5 billion during the quarter, plans to increase its stake by 25 percent through buying shares from the public during the first half of 2013. That affiliate helped push international revenues to $1 billion in the fourth quarter, the company said.

EPS Up as Share Count Falls

The company said fourth quarter profit rose to $1.20 per share from $1.17 per share a year earlier, as the number of shares outstanding fell. Net earnings were down 1 percent to $1.24 billion from $1.25 billion a year earlier.

Revenue rose to $28.8 billion from $25.9 billion a year earlier.

Analysts had been expecting fourth-quarter 2012 earnings of $1.19 per share and sales of $28.2 billion.

UnitedHealth said that for 2013 it expects revenue of $123 billion to $124 billion, up from $110.6 billion in 2012. It sees earnings rising to a range of $5.25 per share to $5.50 per share, from $5.28 per share in 2012.

Analysts have been expecting earnings of $5.55 per share and revenue of $121.11 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company finished 2012 with 6 percent growth in membership to 83.7 million customers, it said.