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) -- Managed health-care giant


(UNH) - Get UnitedHealth Group Incorporated Report

is set to release fourth quarter earnings before the market opens Thursday.

When it does so, analysts polled by

Thomson Reuters

expect UnitedHealth to earn 73 cents a share on revenue of $21.7 billion, below adjusted earnings of 78 cents a share on revenue of $20.5 billion from the year-ago period.

At the end of December, UnitedHealth was cut to hold from buy by

Standpoint Research

, which cited the company's low growth and minimal dividend. The analyst wrote that "this looks like a decent exit point on a name with low growth (and no dividend) that may not offset margin pressures with new accounts in the new (Obama) administration and plan." However, the analyst noted that Standpoint wasn't going negative on managed care companies. It was only recommending that investors lighten-up on UnitedHealth and comparable stocks and lock in some recent gains.

Standpoint Research added that high unemployment will continue to be an obstacle for UnitedHealth.

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In February, UnitedHealth announced an annual dividend of 3 cents per share to common stockholders. The company also paid a 3 cent per share dividend in 2008.

Healthcare stocks rallied

, of course, this week in the run-up to the Republican victory over the Massachusetts senate seat left behind by Democrat Ted Kennedy. The Republican victory is expected to scuttle the Obama Administration's health care reform efforts, which insurers feared could hurt their businesses.

But now that all the excitement over the senate race has died down, with Republican Scott Brown as the winner, UnitedHealth is expected to give back some of its previous days' gains.

-- Reported by Andrea Tse in New York


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