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rolled out another record quarter Thursday, beating Wall Street's expectations and boosting guidance.

For its fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, the hard-charging Minneapolis-based HMO earned $679 million, or $1.09 a share. That's up from the year-ago $507 million, or 83 cents a share. Revenue surged 40% from a year ago to $10.5 billion. The latest-quarter figures beat the Wall Street analyst consensus, listed by Thomson First Call as earnings of $1.08 a share on revenue of $10.38 billion.

"Results for 2004 were excellent, and we enter 2005 in an outstanding position," CEO William McGuire said. "The growth performance of our businesses is accelerating, our customers are increasingly well served by capabilities facilitated by investments made over the past few years, and we have a new generation of initiatives under way."

UnitedHealth also boosted its 2005 earnings target, saying it expects to make $4.75 to $4.80 a share for the full year. That's a nickel above the company's previous goal and slightly ahead of the $4.76 Wall Street consensus estimate.

By now, the company has been a longtime favorite on Wall Street, as

noted in a story previewing Thursday's earnings. It regularly posts bulging, double-digit profit growth that blows past expectations. Last year, UnitedHealth acquired a number of companies, including Oxford and Definity Health, in an effort to further diversify its already broad portfolio.

On Wednesday, UnitedHealth fell 52 cents to $88.28.