UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH - Free Report) first-quarter 2019 earnings of $3.73 per share surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 3.6%. The same was up 22.7% year over year.
Higher revenues, strength in both segments — UnitedHealthcare and Optum — plus membership growth led to this outperformance.
UnitedHealth has a tradition of guiding conservatively and then surpassing its own estimates to surprise investors. The reported quarter was not an exception.
UnitedHealth Group Incorporated Price, Consensus and EPS Surprise
Strong Operating Performance
UnitedHealth posted revenues of $60.3 billion, which beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 1%. The same was up 9.2% year over year, led by UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, OptumRx and OptumHealth.
Total operating cost of $55.5 billion was up 8.5% year over year, led by higher medical costs, cost of products sold and depreciation and amortization cost.
The operating cost ratio of 14.1% improved 130 basis points year over year, due to the deferral of the health insurance tax and strong cost management disciplines.
Strong Performance Across Segments
In the reported quarter, the company’s health benefits segment, UnitedHealthcare, generated revenues of $48.9 billion, up 7.6% year over year. Revenue growth was driven by higher enrollment and increase in pricing. Earnings from operations grew 25% year over year to $3 billion.
Revenues from Optum improved 11.7% year over year to $26.4 billion, reflecting strong contributions from the sub-segments — OptumHealth, OptumInsight and OptumRx. Earnings from operations jumped 14% year over year to $1.9 billion. Steady focus on accelerating growth, as well as improving margins and productivity through enhanced integration and business alignment, led to the segment’s overall improvement.
Membership Enrollment Increases
The company served 49.73 million people in the quarter, up 1.8% year over year. It was led by growth in members, served in the Commercial, Medicare and international segments, partially offset by lower Medicaid membership.
Capital Position Update
First-quarter cash flow from operations declined to $3.3 billion compared with $8.4 billion generated in the year-ago quarter.
Cash and short-term investments at quarter-end were $15.7 billion, up 9.8% year over year.
Debt-to-total capital ratio at the end of the first quarter was 45.8%, up from 40.2% as of Dec 31, 2018.
Share Buyback and Dividend Payment
During the first quarter, dividend payments grew 19.1% year-over-year to $860 million, $3 billion of shares were repurchased.
2019 Guidance Raised
UnitedHealth moved up its 2019 adjusted earnings per share guidance to $14.50-14.75 ($14.40-¬14.70 earlier).
UnitedHealth’s vast and diversified business operations, spanning from health benefit to health services, and a number of accretive acquisitions, that have driven its performance from the past several years, will be the growth catalysts this year too.
Moreover, a solid balance sheet will enable acquisitions that should drive inorganic growth. Good command on controlling medical cost should aid its margins.
Zacks Rank and Other Stocks That Warrant a Look
UnitedHealth, with a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold), has got this reporting cycle off to a flying start. While the other players in the health care space are lined up to report financial results, below are three stocks, poised to beat on earnings per the proven Zacks model.
Here are some companies worth considering in the healthcare sector as our model shows that these have the right combination of elements to beat estimates this to-be-reported quarter:
Anthem Inc. (ANTM - Free Report) has an Earnings ESP of +1.29% and a Zacks Rank of 2 (Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.
Centene Corp. (CNC - Free Report) has an Earnings ESP of +2.07% and is a Zacks #3 Ranked stock.
Cardinal Health, Inc. (CAH - Free Report) has an Earnings ESP of +1.13% and is a #3 Ranked player.
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