WellPoint ( WLP) saw its third-quarter results dragged down by some sour investments in the financial industry.

The giant health insurer, which posted its earnings Wednesday, suffered a 5.5% decline in earnings to $821 million as it paid the price for holding big stakes in several companies hurt by the recent meltdown - including bankrupt Lehman Brothers. All told, it wound up with more than $300 million worth of "other-than-temporary" impairment charges.

Excluding special items, WellPoint managed to top Wall Street expectations for the quarter by 10 cents with earnings per share of $1.60.

For the most part, the giant health insurer delivered a solid performance. The company saw revenue grow 2.2% to $15.3 billion, approaching Wall Street's $15.5 billion target, as it expanded its customer base. It ended the quarter with more than 35.3 million members, although that number is expected to drop a bit by the end of the year.

WellPoint also kept its costs under control. Although the company posted an expected uptick in its "benefit expense ratio" on a year-over-year basis, it managed to improve that crucial metric in recent months. During the third quarter, that ratio fell to 82.5% -- down 80 basis points from the previous period -- although it is expected to come in a full percentage point higher for the year as a whole.

To some, WellPoint's full-year forecast may have looked a bit weak. The company expects to post 2008 profits of $5.43 a share to $5.48 a share. It will have to approach the top of that range, however, in order to hit Wall Street's current targets.

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