United Health Group Inc on Tuesday backed Wall Street’s 2019 earnings forecast, citing momentum in newer businesses like providing medical services and traditional areas, including managing U.S. government Medicare health insurance plans.
The forecast from UnitedHealth, the largest U.S. health insurer, came as it reported better-than-expected third quarter profit, sending shares up 3.7 percent to $269.65.
It also lifted shares of rivals that will report earnings over the next few weeks, including Anthem Inc, Cigna Corp and Humana Inc..
“We enter 2019 with energy and optimism for the future,” UnitedHealth Chief Executive Officer Dave Wichmann said during a conference call with analysts. He said Wall Street’s consensus forecast “captures our 2019 outlook, within a typically sized range.”
The average analyst adjusted earnings estimate for 2019 is $14.41 per share, according to I/B/E/S data from Refinitiv.
BMO Capital Markets analyst Matt Borsch said the company’s raised outlook as well as its low medical services costs in 2018 was a relief to investors, and boosted UnitedHealth shares.
UnitedHealth also raised its outlook for 2018 profit to approaching $12.80 per share from a range of $12.50 and $12.75.
The company is facing increasing competition from Cigna and Aetna Inc after the two rivals each agreed to combine with large pharmacy benefit managers for a business model that will mimic UnitedHealth and its Optum unit.
Cigna is buying Express Scripts Holding Co, while Aetna has agreed to be bought by CVS Health. Both deals are due to close this year.
The insurer is also facing potential upheaval as large corporations look for new ways to provide healthcare, such as by working directly with medical providers. Amazon.com Inc, JP Morgan Chase & Co and Berkshire Hathaway Inc have plans to overhaul healthcare for their U.S. employees.