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On April 1, Zacks Investment Research downgraded WellCare Health Plans, Inc. (WCG - Snapshot Report) to a Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell) on account of declining earnings estimates following weak fourth-quarter 2013 results announced by the company last month.

Why the Downgrade?

WellCare witnessed downward estimate revisions following weak fourth-quarter results reported on Feb 12, 2014. Over the last 60 days, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2014 moved south by 21.1% to $4.04 per share as all the 12 estimates were revised downward. Likewise, the estimate for 2015 declined 16.2% to $4.87 over the same period.

The fourth quarter results clocked a negative surprise of 6%. With this, the company delivered negative earnings surprises in two of its last four reported quarters with an average miss of 0.8%.

WellCare’s fourth-quarter adjusted net earnings per share of $1.09 slid 17.4% from the year-ago quarter earnings of $1.32 per share and also missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1.16.

The underperformance by WellCare was largely due to increasing PDP and Medicare Advantage Segment medical benefit ratios, higher taxes and also increased interest expense. However, the downside was limited by higher premium revenues from Medicaid and MA segment and lower adjusted administrative expense ratio.

WellCare faced several challenges during 2013. Due to a lack of meaningful cost savings for the programs they serve, the company is witnessing problems to fund Medicare Advantage. Additionally, WellCare’s investments in certain areas did not align well with its growth strategies. The company needs to invest at higher levels to achieve its targeted growth.

Other Insurers Worth a Look

We prefer to avoid WellCare for the time being. However, investors interested in the medical sector may consider better-ranked stocks like Aetna Inc. (AET - Analyst Report), WellPoint, Inc. (WLP - Analyst Report) and MEDNAX, Inc. (MD - Snapshot Report). All these stocks carry a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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