UnitedHealth Group Tops Q4 Earnings Forecast, Confirms 2021 Guidance

Optum gains offset rising COVID costs for UnitedHealth, driving solid fourth quarter earnings and a robust 2021 profit forecast.
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UnitedHealth Group Inc.  (UNH) - Get Report posted stronger-than-expected fourth quarter earnings Wednesday, and confirmed its 2021 profit forecast, as Optum continues to power the health care provider's top and bottom lines.

UnitedHealth said adjusted profits for the three months ending in December came in at $2.52 per share, down 35.4% from the same period last year but  11 cents ahead of the Street consensus forecast. Group revenues, UnitedHealth said, rose 7.55% to $60.5 billion, essentially in-line with analysts' estimates of a $65.1 billion tally.

UnitedHealth also reiterated its profit forecast for 2021, which it published in early December, and sees a range for adjusted earnings of between $17.75 and $18.25 per share, with revenues in the region of $277 billion to $280 billion, a 9% increase from the group's 2020 forecast. 

UnitedHealth said in December that the 2021 forecasts include a hit of $1.8 per share that reflects costs linked to "accommodate continuing COVID-19 effects, such as: treatment and testing costs; the residual impact of people deferring care in 2020; and unemployment and other economic-driven factors.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the more than 325,000 women and men of this enterprise for their role in advancing a higher performing health system during these times of unprecedented challenges,” said CEO David Wichmann. “We are grateful for the human spirit and resolve of our people, including our 125,000 clinicians who, with other frontline health care workers, demonstrated extraordinary collaboration, compassion and innovation.”  

UnitedHealth shares were marked 0.35% lower in early trading following the earnings release to change hands at $351.40, a move that would trim the stock's six-month gain to around 15%.