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UnitedHealth (UNH) Up 0.5% Since Last Earnings Report: Can It Continue?

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It has been about a month since the last earnings report for UnitedHealth Group (UNH). Shares have added about 0.5% in that time frame, underperforming the S&P 500.

Will the recent positive trend continue leading up to its next earnings release, or is UnitedHealth due for a pullback? Before we dive into how investors and analysts have reacted as of late, let's take a quick look at the most recent earnings report in order to get a better handle on the important catalysts.

UnitedHealth Q4 Earnings Beat on Revenue Growth

UnitedHealth Group Inc.’s fourth-quarter 2019 earnings of $3.90 per share surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 3.4%. Earnings were up 19% year over year.

Higher revenues, strength in both segments — UnitedHealthcare and Optum — plus membership growth led to this outperformance.

Strong Operating Performance

UnitedHealth posted revenues of $60.9 billion, which came in line with the Zacks Consensus Estimate. Revenues were up 3.8% year over year, led by double-digit growth at UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, OptumRx and OptumHealth.

Total operating cost of $55.8 billion was up 3.5% year over year, due to higher medical costs and operating cost.    

2019 Results

Revenues of $242 billion grew 7% year over year. Earnings per share of $15.11 grew 17.3% year over year and came in ahead of the company’s earlier provided guidance of $14.90-$15.

Strong Performance Across Segments

In the reported quarter, the company’s health benefits segment, UnitedHealthcare, generated revenues of $48.2 billion, up 4.3% year over year. Revenue growth was driven by higher enrollment and increase in pricing.

The company’s business groups — Employer and Individual, Medicare and Retirement — contributed to the growth. Earnings from operations were up 15.5% year over year to $2.1 billion, led by revenue growth.

Revenues from Optum improved 8.3% year over year to $29.8 billion, reflecting strong contributions from the sub-segments, OptumHealth (up 30.2%) and OptumInsight (14.4%). Earnings from operations jumped 12% year over year to $3 billion.

Increase in Membership Enrollment

The company served 49.15 million people in the quarter, up 0.2% year over year. It was led by growth in members, served in the Commercial and Medicare Advantage and partially offset by lower Medicaid and International membership.

Capital Position Update

During the year, cash flow from operations increased 17.5% year over year to $18.46 billion.

Cash and short-term investments at quarter-end were $14.24 billion, down 0.6% year over year.

2020 Guidance Update

The company affirmed its recently issued earnings outlook for 2020, including net earnings of $15.45 to $15.75 per share and adjusted net earnings of $16.25 to $16.55 per share.


How Have Estimates Been Moving Since Then?

In the past month, investors have witnessed a downward trend in estimates review. The consensus estimate has shifted -10.53% due to these changes.

VGM Scores

Currently, UnitedHealth has a strong Growth Score of A, though it is lagging a lot on the Momentum Score front with a C. Charting a somewhat similar path, the stock was allocated a grade of B on the value side, putting it in the second quintile for this investment strategy.

Overall, the stock has an aggregate VGM Score of A. If you aren't focused on one strategy, this score is the one you should be interested in.


Estimates have been broadly trending downward for the stock, and the magnitude of these revisions indicates a downward shift. Notably, UnitedHealth has a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). We expect an above average return from the stock in the next few months.

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