Aetna, Inc. (AET) and Humana, Inc. (HUM) ended their $34-billion merger agreement in February 2017 after government opposition, but neither stock has suffered from the untimely split, as evidenced by this week’s bullish first-quarter earnings results. Both health insurance giants have rocketed to all-time highs after their releases, ignoring the breakup as well as Congressional disagreement on the fate of Obamacare.
Health carriers have enjoyed all the perks of their Affordable Care Act (ACA) participation since it became law in March 2010 but few of the shortfalls because they can pull out of markets or the entire program whenever they choose. Even so, the risk is now rising geometrically because whatever form health insurance takes in coming years; carriers are less likely to avoid the weight of bad legislation, underwriting or case management.
Aetna stumbled in the middle of the last decade, stalling just above $50 in 2006 and testing that resistance level in early 2008. Aggressive sellers took control at that time, dumping the stock in a major decline that accelerated during the economic collapse. Selling pressure eased at a 5-year low in the mid-teens at year’s end, ahead of a modest bounce that stalled in the mid-30s in 2009.
A 2010 test at that level triggered a reversal and pullback, ahead of a 2011 breakout that reached the 2007 high in 2013. It jumped above that resistance level quickly, entering a trend advance that continued into the June 2015 high at $134.40, ahead of a volatile correction that continued into the first quarter of 2016. Support in the low-90s denied short sellers, ahead of a slow and steady recovery wave into the fourth quarter.
The stock took off after the November election, in reaction to the President-elect’s call to repeal Obamacare, and stalled at 2015 resistance in December. A pullback into the first quarter of 2017 found willing buyers, ahead of constructive action that completed a cup and handle pattern. The stock broke out this week after strong earnings, with a measured move target in the 170s likely to attract a healthy momentum bid.
Humana topped out at $88.10 in January 2008 following a long uptrend and sold off in a vertical slide that continued into the March 2009 low at $18.57. The subsequent recovery wave unfolded at the same trajectory as the prior decline, completing a 100% round trip into resistance in 2011. Sellers took control at that time, triggering broad sideways action that continued for more than two years, ahead of a 2013 breakout.
The uptrend yielded the most fruitful period in the stock’s long public history, topping out above $200 in June 2015, ahead of a rounded correction that found support at $150 in July 2016. A fitful recovery intensified after the election in a vertical buying wave that reached within 2-points of 2105 resistance in December. A pullback into January 2017 found support at the 50-day EMA, ahead of a rally that finally reached resistance in March.
The company reported inline first-quarter earnings on Wednesday morning while reaffirming fiscal year 2017 guidance, triggering a gap up to an all-time high, followed by a pullback that’s testing shareholder commitment. It’s likely that bulls will win this conflict, allowing the breakout to gather momentum in a trend advance that could reach $300 later this year.
The Bottom Line
Former merger partners Humana and Aetna are trading near all-time highs after strong earnings reports that highlight health carrier abundance at a time that many Americans are struggling with the high treatment costs. The results could influence D.C. efforts to reform or repeal Obamacare, increasing carrier risk despite this week’s earnings euphoria.
<Disclosure: the author held no positions in aforementioned stocks at the time of publication.>