FILE - This Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, file photo, shows a portion of the UnitedHealth Group Inc.'s campus in Minnetonka, Minn. UnitedHealth Group reports financial results Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

UnitedHealth shares move higher on earnings beat

January 15, 2019 - 6:49 am

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — UnitedHealth's fourth-quarter earnings slid 16 percent from last year, when federal tax cuts helped the nation's largest health insurer, but the performance still came in well above analyst expectations.

The company's fast-growing Optum segment helped stoke results, with operating earnings for that business jumping nearly 23 percent to $2.7 billion. Optum runs a large pharmacy benefit management business and a growing number of clinics and urgent care and surgery centers.

UnitedHealth's insurance side, which generates more revenue but thinner profits, had flat operating earnings of $1.8 billion.

UnitedHealth has been feeding Optum with acquisitions as insurers push deeper into managing or providing patient care in order to cut costs and improve quality. That's a big shift that involves trying to keep people healthy instead of waiting to pay claims after they seek care. More than a year ago, the company announced a $5 billion deal to buy DaVita Medical Group and its hundreds of clinics.

Overall, UnitedHealth Group Inc. earned $3.04 billion in the quarter that ended Dec. 31, with adjusted earnings of $3.28 per share. That was 8 cents better than industry analysts expected, according to a survey by Zacks Investment Research.

Total revenue of $58.42 billion also topped the $57.94 billion expected on Wall Street.

For the full year, UnitedHealth earned nearly $12 billion on $226 billion in revenue. Total enrollment jumped 5 percent in 2018 to 49 million people, including an international business of more than 6 million.

In 2019, UnitedHealth expects adjusted earnings of between $14.40 and $14.70 per share, a forecast it first laid out in late November and then reaffirmed Tuesday.

Analysts expect $14.62 per share, according to FactSet.

UnitedHealth Group, a component of the Dow Jones industrial average, is the first health insurer to release results every quarter. Many analysts and investors see it as a bellwether for the sector.

Shares of the Minnetonka, Minnesota, company slipped less than 1 percent to $246.50 before the opening bell.

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Elements of this story were generated by Automated Insights (http://automatedinsights.com/ap) using data from Zacks Investment Research. Access a Zacks stock report on UNH at https://www.zacks.com/ap/UNH

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