UnitedHealth Group's earnings soared 56 percent in the final quarter of 2016, helped by growth in its core health insurance business plus gains from its Optum business segment.
The nation's largest health insurer beat Wall Street expectations for the quarter and also reaffirmed its earnings forecast for the new year.
UnitedHealth said operating earnings from its UnitedHealthcare business, which provides health coverage, jumped 79 percent to $1.7 billion compared to the final quarter of 2015, when the insurer had to set aside money to cover growing losses on the Affordable Care Act's public insurance exchanges.
UnitedHealth has said it expected to lose around $850 million last year from its ACA-compliant individual business, which is a small slice of its total operation. Heading into 2017, it drastically scaled back its participation on the ACA's public exchanges, which face an uncertain future as Republicans in Congress and President-elect Donald Trump seek to repeal and replace the law.
In the fourth quarter, UnitedHealth also recorded $1.8 billion in operating earnings from its Optum segment, which provides pharmacy benefits management and technology services and also operates clinics and doctor's offices.
Earlier this month, it said it would spend about $2.3 billion to add Surgical Care Affiliates to its Optum health services unit, which has 20,000 affiliated physicians and hundreds of facilities. Surgical Care operates 205 surgical facilities and partners with about 3,000 physicians. Health insurance is still UnitedHealth's main revenue generator, but it has been focused for several quarters now on growing its Optum segment.
Overall, Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group Inc. earned $1.9 billion in the fourth quarter, with adjusted earnings totaling $2.11. Total revenue grew 9 percent to $47.52 billion.
Analysts expected, on average, earnings of $2.07 per share on $46.86 billion in revenue, according to Zacks Investment Research.
For 2017, UnitedHealth still expects adjusted earnings ranging from $9.30 to $9.60 per share, a forecast it announced in late November.
Analysts forecast earnings of $9.51 per share on $198.66 billion in revenue, according to FactSet.
UnitedHealth is the first insurer to report earnings every quarter. Many see it as a bellwether for other insurers.
Shares of UnitedHealth started climbing early Tuesday and was up 60 cents to $162.40 about two hours before markets opened. The stock jumped 36 percent last year, easily outpacing broader indexes.
Elements of this story were generated by Automated Insights (http://automatedinsights.com/ap) using data from Zacks Investment Research. Access a Zacks stock report on UNH at https://www.zacks.com/ap/UNH
Keywords: UnitedHealth Group, Earnings Report, Priority Earnings