UHG’s Shares Dip on Profit Outlook Shy of Analyst Forecast

The Minnetonka-based health insurer said that it expects to earn $5.25 to $5.50 per share in 2013, less than the $5.58 per share that analysts have predicted.

UnitedHealth Group, Inc., on Monday said that it expects earnings to increase in 2013, but its profit forecast fell short of analysts’ predictions, and its stock price slid slightly following the news.

The Minnetonka-based health insurer—which is Minnesota’s largest public company based on revenue—said that it expects net earnings of $5.25 to $5.50 per share in 2013.

The company’s earnings forecast is below that of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, who expect UnitedHealth to earn $5.58 per share.

Meanwhile, the company said that it expects 2013 revenue to be between $123 billion and $124 billion next year—higher than analysts’ expectations of $119 billion.

UnitedHealth’s earnings forecast was released prior to an investor conference that will occur Tuesday in New York. Although its 2013 earnings outlook is below that of analysts', the company is predicting earnings growth: It affirmed its previously announced 2012 earnings outlook of $5.20 to $5.25 per share; in 2011, the company reported earnings of $4.73 per share.

CEO Stephen Hemsley reportedly said last month that analysts’ earnings estimates for 2013 appeared too optimistic in light of the weak economy and government efforts to rein in the deficit.

Sheryl Skolnick, an analyst at CRT Capital Group, wrote in a research note that UnitedHealth’s 2013 guidance “seems conservative, but prudently so, as it’s a first look at the year and there is still a cloud of uncertainty around the ‘fiscal cliff’ and debt ceiling issues,” according to a Reuters report.

Shares of UnitedHealth’s stock were trading down more than 2 percent at $52.79 Monday morning. They improved later in the day to close Monday at $53.53.