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first-quarter earnings slid sharply from a year ago because of a mandated accounting change for retirement benefits. Before the change, operating earnings rose from a year ago on improved cost management.

The insurance company earned $78 million, or 55 cents a share, in the latest quarter, down from $236 million, or $1.68 a share, last year. Continuing earnings prior to investment items were $263 million, or $1.86 a share, in the most recent quarter, up from $205 million, or $1.46 a share, last year. Revenue fell to $4.72 billion from $4.90 billion last year.

On a continuing basis, analysts were forecasting earnings of $1.83 a share on revenue of $4.54 billion in the most recent quarter. The company also forecast second-quarter continuing operations earnings of $155 million to $185 million, which looks roughly in line with the Thomson First Call estimate of $1.16 a share.

Cigna posted first-quarter health care earnings of $185 million, up 53% from a year ago, driven by "solid execution of our medical management and expense reduction initiatives," the company said.

"We are driving further improvement by accelerating investment in our health care product portfolio and service capabilities," Cigna said. "With the sale of our retirement benefits business completed, we have significant financial flexibility and have heightened our focus on our health care and related benefits businesses."