UnitedHealth’s fourth-quarter net income surged 16%, and investors shrugged off a rare revenue miss to make the nation’s largest health insurer one of the biggest gainers in Wednesday trading.
Growing Medicare Advantage coverage and fat profits from UnitedHealth’s Optum business, which strays beyond the company’s health insurance core, contributed to better-than-expected earnings in the quarter.
Revenue grew 4% to $60.9 billion, just shy of analyst projections for $60.96 billion, according to FactSet.
The insurer, a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, normally tops Wall Street expectations for earnings and revenue every quarter.
UnitedHealth brought in more than $47 billion in insurance premiums during the quarter, but its product sales tumbled 11% to $7.62 billion.
Product sales include the company’s pharmacy benefit management operation, which took a hit when it lost business from Cigna after the rival insurer bought its own PBM.
UnitedHealth earned $3.54 billion in the final quarter of 2019, with adjusted per share profits of $3.90 per share. That's 12 cents better than expected, according to a survey of analysts polled by FactSet.
The Minnetonka, Minnesota, company covers more than 49 million people, including 5.7 million in its international business. The company saw Medicare Advantage enrollment climb more than 6 percent year over year to 5.2 million people in the quarter.
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Medicare Advantage plans are privately run versions of the federal government’s coverage program for people over age 65.
Health insurance is UnitedHealth’s biggest business. But most of its operating earnings came from its Optum segment, which runs a growing number of clinics and urgent care and surgery centers as well as the PBM business.
Optum pulled in $3 billion in operating earnings, compared to $2.1 billion from the insurance side. Optum’s operating margin topped 10%, which was more than twice as big as the insurance business.
For the full year, UnitedHealth Group Inc. earned $13.84 billion on more than $242 billion in revenue. Adjusted earnings per share totaled $15.11, and the insurer expects that to grow this year.
The company on Wednesday reaffirmed 2020 profit expectations that it laid out last month at its investor conference. It forecasts adjusted earnings of between $16.25 and $16.55 per share.
Analysts expect per-share profits of $16.46 this year, according to FactSet.
Company shares climbed more than 3 percent, or $9.27, to $297.51 while the Dow rose slightly.
The stock climbed 18% last year, with the price reaching $300 for the first time in late December.
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