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Aetna Stock Continues Surge on Takeover Talk

The health insurer is contemplating the takeover offer.

Shares of

Aetna

(AET)

continued their sharp rise Thursday, following a stunning 29% gain Wednesday, on news the troubled health insurer is considering a takeover bid.

Aetna shares closed up 2 3/4, or 5%, at 58 5/8 after trading as high as 61 7/8 around midday.

Until Wednesday, Aetna had been trading near its 52-week low of 38 1/2 after reporting disappointing earnings in February, well off its high of 99 7/8.

The $70-per-share offer came from Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based healthcare rival

WellPoint Health Networks

(WLP)

and ING America Insurance Holdings, a unit of Dutch financial company ING Group NV. For each Aetna share, the companies offered $44 a share in cash plus WellPoint stock valued at $26 a share.

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The offer values Aetna, the largest U.S. health insurer, at about $10 billion.

Aetna said that its board would review the offer and that William H. Donaldson, its chairman and chief executive officer, was reviewing the company's strategy and operation.

The Hartford, Conn.-based company has faced widespread investor dissatisfaction because of the company's depressed stock price, and its previous chief executive officer was ousted Friday.

Aetna's revenue is nearly triple that of WellPoint. That may be why WellPoint teamed up with an investment bank on the deal.

The offer has led to speculation that the bidders might be looking to pick and choose certain portions of Aetna's financial services and insurance divisions and put others on the block.

Some analysts have noted WellPoint would likely be interested in parts of Aetna's healthcare divisions that would build a presence in areas outside its current concentration in California.

The offer was first made last Thursday to Richard L. Huber, who was replaced the next day as chief executive by Donaldson, an Aetna board member and a founder of investment bank

Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette

(DLJ)

.

Shortly after Donaldson started, the firm also hired a turnaround specialist, Robert S. Miller, as a special adviser to help it resuscitate its sickly stock price.

Trading in Aetna's stock was halted 3:30 p.m. Wednesday after the stock had risen 11 7/8, or 28.9%, to 53 on an early rumor about the deal reported on a television news station. It did not resume until the market opened Thursday