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Share Buyback Helps Cigna Beat Earnings Estimates

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this morning reported reduced fourth-quarter income from continuing operations, hurt in part by lower earnings in its long-term disability business. A share buyback program helped the insurer beat analysts' expectations on an earnings-per-share basis.

The Philadelphia-based company, the third largest life and disability insurer in the nation, posted fourth-quarter earnings of $285 million, or $1.81 a share, compared with $296 million, or $1.66 a share, in the same period last year. The per-share result was up thanks to a share buyback, which resulted in a 10% decline in the company's number of shares outstanding compared with a year ago. According to a poll by earnings tracker

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, analysts on average expected Cigna to earn $1.76 a share for the fourth quarter.

Revenue for the quarter was $5.12 billion, up from $4.84 billion a year ago. The company said the increase came from growth in its employee health care, life and disability benefits businesses.

Shares of Cigna closed at $120.89 Thursday on the

New York Stock Exchange. The stock has ranged from $60.75 to $136.75 in the past year.