Healthcare Business

UBS Raises Price Targets on 4 Top Health Care Providers

If there has been one group stocks that has delivered for investors this year it has been the managed care organizations (MCO) that are the top health care providers in the United States. The group was up almost 24% on average, versus 9.4% for the S&P Healthcare index and just 1.2% for the S&P 500. While that kind of performance is tough to sustain, a new report from the analysts at UBS suggests that the group could have further room to run.

Two of the items the UBS team highlighted in the group are figured to be active in mergers and acquisitions. They also point out that the new public exchanges set up through the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, the viability of which was questioned two years ago, are now accepted as an important new avenue for MCO growth. The UBS report highlights four stocks to buy: Aetna Inc. (NYSE: AET), Anthem Inc. (NYSE: ANTM), Cigna Corp. (NYSE: CI) and UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE: UNH).

Aetna

Aetna makes the list and trades at just touch over 13 times 2015 estimated earnings. The company is one of the nation’s leading diversified health care benefits companies, serving an estimated 44 million people while offering a broad range of traditional, voluntary and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health, group life and disability plans, and medical management capabilities.

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Aetna investors are paid a 0.95% dividend. The UBS price target for the stock jumps from $120 to $128. The Thomson/First Call consensus estimate is $126.35. The stock closed Wednesday at $107.29 a share.

Anthem

One of the nation’s leading health benefits companies, Anthem delivers quality products and services that give its members access to the care they need. With more than 68 million people served by its affiliated companies, including more than 37 million enrolled in its family of health plans, continued growth is not out of the question with an aging population that is living longer.

The company recently posted strong fourth-quarter 2014 earnings and shared a very positive outlook for 2015. The acquisition of Simply Healthcare Holdings also has contributed to the strong share price appreciation this year.

Anthem investors are paid a 1.6% dividend. The UBS price target is lifted to $175 from $163, compared to a consensus target of $157.61. Shares closed Wednesday at $154.42 apiece.

Cigna

This major health services organization provides insurance and related products and services in the United States and internationally. All products and services are provided exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries, including Cigna Health and Life Insurance, Life Insurance Company of North America, Cigna Life Insurance Company of Canada, or affiliates.

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The health care giant offers an integrated suite of health services, such as medical, dental, behavioral health, pharmacy, vision, supplemental benefits and other related products, including group life, accident and disability insurance. Cigna maintains sales capability in 30 countries and jurisdictions, and it has approximately 86 million customer relationships throughout the world.

Cigna investors are paid a tiny 0.04% dividend. The UBS price target goes to $149 from $140, while the consensus target is down at $131.33. The stock closed Wednesday at $126.91 a share.

UnitedHealth

UnitedHealth offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and it contracts directly with more than 800,000 physicians and care professionals, as well as 6,000 hospitals and other care facilities. The company offers a broad spectrum of products and services through two distinct platforms: UnitedHealthcare, which provides health care coverage and benefits services, and Optum, which provides information and technology-enabled health services.

The company has posted outstanding earnings over the past year and could be poised to have another stellar quarter when it announces results next month. This is one of the companies that have limited exposure to the public exchanges.

UnitedHealth investors are paid a 1.3% dividend. UBS raised its price target from $131 to $135, while the mean target is $127.19. The shares closed Wednesday at $116.54.

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While the big run in the top stocks may be over, investors can still feel good investing in what has been over the years a fairly defensive sector. With most of the regulation and public exchange issues out of the headlines for now, the sailing going forward looks smooth.