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Tickers in this Article: UNH
UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) is scheduled to announce its third quarter earnings on Tuesday, October 16, 2012.

Earnings season is important to investors because it shows how much profit is left in the company's hand after deducting costs from revenue. SEE: Surprising Earnings Results

What to Expect: The consensus estimate for UnitedHealth's earnings is $1.25 per share, up 6.8% from a year ago when the company reported earnings of $1.17 per share.

The consensus estimate, while unchanged in the past month, is down from $1.27 three months ago. Analysts are expecting earnings of $5.04 per share for the fiscal year.

Revenue is expected to exceed last year's figure of $25.28 billion by 9.1% and come in at $27.58 billion for the quarter. Revenue for the fiscal year is expected to come in at $110.01 billion.

Company Performance: In the past four quarters, revenue has shown consistent growth. It increased 8% to $27.27 billion in the second quarter. Prior to that, the figure rose 7.3% in the first quarter, 7.8% in the fourth quarter of the last fiscal year and 6.8% in the third quarter of the last fiscal year.

UNH's P/E ratio of 11.7 falls below the industry average of 14.51. Companies with low P/E ratios may find it easier to surprise the market to the upside, even if their financial performance is not as strong as that of companies with high P/E ratios. The P/E ratio has been used for ages by analysts and still remains one of the most relevant pieces of stock valuation. High P/E stocks could be "growth" stocks, while low PE stocks may be "value" stocks. SEE: The P/E Ratio: A Good Market-Timing Indicator

The stock price has increased from $55.20 on July 13, 2012 to $57.11 over the past quarter. UnitedHealth's best recent streak was when its price gained $2.34 per share between August 7, 2012 and September 7, 2012.

The Competition: UnitedHealth Group designs products, provides services and applies technologies that improve access to health and well-being services. The majority of analysts (14 of 18) give UnitedHealth a buy rating. In the last three months, the number of buy ratings has increased slightly.

The company's closest competitor in the insurance (accident and health) industry is WellPoint (WLP). Analysts are more optimistic about UnitedHealth than about WellPoint. Only nine out of 18 analysts rate the latter a buy.

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