Healthcare Business

5 Stocks That May Benefit From a Terrible Flu Season

Despite the fact that the flu numbers look only slightly elevated from last year, ask almost anybody you know and either they have had it or know somebody that has. One of the reasons is the flu vaccine prepared for this year is not tackling the actual strain that has hit. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says this may lift reported cases.

In a new research report from the health care/life sciences analysts at Baird, they are tracing hospital pulmonary admissions, as well as some top stocks that could benefit.

The Baird analysts also point out that the more advanced strands of this year’s virus may result in increased hospitalizations for the top providers. They also note that recent commentary from hospitals confirms this trend. Ultimately, this could result in increased earnings that are not currently baked into the first quarter and the rest of 2015.

Here are five stocks rated Outperform at Baird that are seeing a high percentage of pulmonary Medicare admissions.

Community Health Systems Inc. (NYSE: CYH) is a top stock idea at Baird, and on Wall Street, for 2015, with the thesis being predicated on coverage expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) providing a substantial boost in 2015 and beyond, and a large asset base providing geographic diversification and scale advantages. The stock is one that analysts see as most levered to the states where Medicaid expansion could be the greatest, and more exposed to health care reform than any other company in the firm’s coverage universe. While flu-related physician visits decreased in the past week, they are much higher than last year.

The Baird price target on the stock is $69. The Thomson/First Call consensus price objective is much lower at $62.74. Shares closed Tuesday at $49.29.

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HCA Holdings Inc. (NYSE: HCA) trades at a low 15 times forward earnings. It has scale advantages as the largest private hospital operator in the United States and is diversified geographically. The company also benefits from local market density, with the number one or number two market share in most of its local markets. Analysts feel that that increasing Medicaid enrollment and the potential for additional states to expand Medicaid eligibility could provide upside to their model and provide built-in growth for 2015. HCA’s flu-related visits also dropped last week but are up year over year.

The Baird price target is $95, and the consensus target is $85.45. HCA shares closed trading Tuesday at $72.42.

Lifepoint Hospital Inc. (NASDAQ: LPNT) is a leading hospital company focused on providing quality health care services close to home. Through its subsidiaries, LifePoint operates more than 60 hospital campuses in 20 states. In many of the cities the company serves, Lifepoint is the sole community hospital provider. It is another of the companies that analysts see as benefiting from the 2015 Medicaid expansion. Flu-related doctor visits declined in the past week but are half a percentage point higher than last year.

The Baird price target is $77, and the consensus is posted at higher at $80.42. The stock closed Tuesday at $69.11.

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Tenet Healthcare Corp. (NYSE: THC) is a national, diversified health care services company with more than 105,000 employees. It operates 80 hospitals, more than 190 outpatient centers, six health plans and Conifer Health Solutions, a leading provider of health care business process services in the areas of revenue cycle management, value-based care and patient communications. Flu-related visits decreased to 4.7%, versus 4.4% last year.

The Baird price objective is a whopping $70, and the consensus target is lower at $62.26. The shares ended trading Tuesday at $43.60.

Universal Health Services Inc. (NYSE: UHS) is one of the nation’s largest hospital companies, operating, through its subsidiaries, behavioral health facilities, acute care hospitals and ambulatory centers throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The company’s hospitals offer various services, including general and specialty surgery, internal medicine, obstetrics, emergency room care, radiology, oncology, diagnostic care, coronary care, pediatric services, pharmacy services and behavioral health services. Flu-related doctor visits dropped to 5.5% last week, compared to 5.3% last year.

Universal Health investors are paid a small 0.4% dividend. Baird has a $129 price target, and consensus target is $123.72 The stock closed on Tuesday at $106.84.

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Combine an aging population with an influx of new patients as a result of the ACA, as well as increased physician visits due to a worse than normal flu season, and hospital stocks are a solid place for long-term investors. While not flashy or super high profile, these companies are expected to deliver solid earnings growth for the foreseeable future. That is not a claim all market sectors can make after an extended market run.