Faced with mounting bills from the uninsured, LifePoint ( LPNT) has issued weak guidance for the coming year. The rural hospital chain announced on Friday that it expects 2007 profits to come in at $2.42 to $2.52 a share. On average, Wall Street analysts were projecting full-year profits of $2.62 instead. Increases in bad debt expense and charity care -- which could total 15% of the company's 2007 revenue combined -- continue to hurt the bottom line. On a bright note, LifePoint issued top-line guidance of $2.68 billion to $2.69 billion, in line with Wall Street estimates. The company expects patient volumes to grow by 1% to 2% despite the tough industry environment. It offered a simple formula for that success. "Physician recruiting and relationship building remain the major focus for all of our management teams because we recognize that active physician recruiting and healthy physician relationships are key components in growing our business," LifePoint CEO William Carpenter said on Friday. "We firmly believe that we can strengthen LifePoint's long-term growth through our continued commitment to carefully selected capital projects and the expansion of our services." Still, investors hoped for better. They pushed shares of LifePoint down 31 cents to $33.25 in early-morning trading.
Stephens analyst Whit Mayo had anticipated "conservative, yet beatable" guidance from the company. On Thursday, Mayo noted that LifePoint issued a "very bleak outlook" for 2006 that now looks low in hindsight. Thus, he predicted more of the same.