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Can UnitedHealth (UNH) Surprise This Earnings Season?

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UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH - Free Report) is set to report fourth-quarter and full year 2013 results before the opening bell on Jan 16. In the last reported quarter, the company’s earnings were in line with the Zacks Consensus Estimate. Let’s see how things are shaping up for this announcement.

Growth Factors in the Fourth Quarter

UnitedHealth has been facing numerous challenges related to the Affordable Care Act. Despite the headwinds, the company has been able to achieve top as well as bottom-line growth, led by its diversified and differentiated business profile. The company has also seen an increase in its membership led by higher enrollment in its international business.

UnitedHealth has also benefited from efficient expense management along with a strong balance sheet.

Earnings Whispers?

Our proven model does not conclusively show that UnitedHealth is likely to beat earnings this quarter. That is because a stock needs to have both a positive Earnings ESP and a Zacks Rank #1, 2 or 3 for this to happen. However, that is not the case here as you will see below.

Zacks ESP:  With the Most Accurate estimate pegged at $1.40, in line with the Zacks Consensus Estimate, Zacks ESP is 0.00%.

Zacks Rank #3 (Hold): UnitedHealth’s Zacks Rank #3 increases the predictive power of ESP, but when combined with a 0.00% ESP makes surprise prediction difficult. We caution against stocks with Zacks #4 and #5 Ranks (Sell-rated stocks) going into the earnings announcement, especially when the company is seeing a negative estimate revision momentum.

Other Stocks to Consider

Here are some other companies you may want to consider as our model shows that these have the right combination of elements to post an earnings beat this quarter:

CNO Financial Group, Inc. (CNO - Free Report) , earnings ESP of 3.33% and Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). 

Aetna Inc. (AET - Free Report) , earnings ESP of 2.2% and Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

Centene Corp. (CNC - Free Report) , earnings ESP of 3.66% and Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

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