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(CI) - Get Cigna Corporation Report

Wednesday reported a sharply higher third-quarter profit, as the company kept a lid on costs and realized a gain on the sale of its retirement benefits business.

The health care provider reported net income of $320 million, or $2.34 a share, compared with net income of $195 million, or $1.39 a share, a year ago.

Based on continuing operations, the Philadelphia-based company posted a profit of $242 million, or $1.77 a share, vs. $204 million, or $1.45 a share, in the year-ago quarter.

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Analysts expected the company to earn $1.36 a share, according to Thomson First Call.

Revenue, however, slipped to $4.5 billion, from $4.8 billion a year ago.

By the quarter's end, total membership was down to 9.9 million from 11.8 million a year ago.

Cigna increased its full-year 2004 EPS forecast to $6.65 to $6.85 a share, excluding items. The consensus estimate is $6.23.

Shares gained $1.55, or 2.4%, to $65 in premarket trading. The move may also reflect President Bush's apparent election victory, which is seen as a positive for the sector.