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HCA Reports Flat Quarter

Revenue rises 4%.
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fourth-quarter earnings were roughly unchanged from a year ago on a 4% rise in sales.

The hospital operator earned $325 million, or 74 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with $322 million, or 70 cents a share, a year ago. The latest period included gains of 11 cents a share, roughly 8 cents of which had been communicated to analysts previously. It also had an expense of 4 cents a share related to the hurricanes.

On average, analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were forecasting earnings of 69 cents a share.

Sales rose 4% from a year ago to $6.18 billion, matching the Thomson First Call consensus.

Fourth-quarter same-facility admissions rose 0.3% from a year ago. Fourth-quarter 2005 same facility "equivalent" admissions rose 0.7% from a year ago. HCA said its provision for doubtful accounts for the fourth quarter of 2005 totaled $625 million, or 10.1% of revenue, compared to $626 million, or 10.5% of revenue, in the fourth quarter of 2004.

For 2006, HCA reiterated guidance of $3.25 to $3.45 a share, including 8 cents a share of options expenses and a gain of 14 cents a share from the sale of five hospitals. The results will also benefit from a reduced share count after a buyback. Analysts were forecasting $3.25 a share.