Aetna Earnings Soar

A tax refund boosts the bottom line. Before that, earnings beat estimates by 2 cents a share.
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Aetna's

(AET)

earnings rose by a factor of 10 compared with a year ago, boosted by a tax refund. Excluding one-time items, earnings rose 40% from a year ago on a 13% rise in revenue.

Aetna earned $1.29 billion, or $8.21 a share, in the three months ended Sept. 30, compared with $215.9 million, or $1.35 a share, last year. The latest quarter included a gain of $6.29 a share from a tax refund. Excluding items, Aetna earned $289.5 million, or $1.75 a share. Revenue was $5 billion in the latest quarter compared with $4.5 billion a year ago.

Analysts were forecasting earnings of $1.73 a share on revenue of $4.95 billion. The company forecast operating earnings of $7 a share for all of 2004, compared with the Thomson First Call consensus of $6.97 a share. For 2005, the company projected net medical membership growth of 700,000 to 800,000, and full-year operating earnings of $8.40. The consensus estimate is $8.08 for full-year 2005.

Aetna said its third-quarter performance primarily reflects revenue growth from increased premiums and fees, higher membership levels and continued general and administrative expense efficiencies. Medical membership rose by 131,000 in the third quarter to 13.6 million, and the company said it is "solidly on track" to add a net 600,000 to 750,000 new members in 2004.

The stock closed Wednesday at $91.75, about 10% below its 52-week high.