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Express Scripts Earnings Surged 74%; Forecast Clears Lowered Hurdle

02/18/2013 | 05:18pm US/Eastern
   By Jon Kamp 
 

Pharmacy-benefit manager Express Scripts Holding Co. (>> Express Scripts Holding Co) reported a 74% surge in fourth-quarter earnings, helped by a major acquisition, while forecasting 2013 earnings mostly ahead of a Wall Street target the company helped drag lower three months ago.

The St. Louis-based company--which manages drug-benefit programs for health plans and corporate customers--rattled analysts in November when it said their forecasts for 2013 looked too high. Express Scripts didn't release its own guidance at the time, but said a still-weak economy was weighing on the number of prescriptions it handles.

Monday's release finally included company guidance for adjusted earnings of $4.20 to $4.30 per share this year. The target is largely above the $4.20 forecast among analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters, although Express Scripts' November warning caused analysts to trim the consensus forecast by about 30 cents since then.

This will mark the first full year of combined operations for Express Scripts and Medco Health Solutions, which created the largest pharmacy-benefit manager, or PBM, following April's $29.1 billion Medco acquisition.

"2012 was a monumental year for Express Scripts as we closed the acquisition of Medco and made significant progress integrating the two companies," George Paz, Express Scripts' chief executive, said in a press release.

The company plans to hold a conference call Tuesday morning. Its shares are up about 2.9% so far this year, through Friday's close, trailing a 6.6% gain in the Standard & Poor's 500 index.

The company reported fourth-quarter earnings of $504.1 million, or 61 cents a share, up from $290.4 million, or 59 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding deal-related costs and other items, per-share earnings rose to $1.05 from 82 cents.

Revenue more than doubled to $27.41 billion from the year-earlier period, which was before the Medco deal.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had forecast earnings of $1.04 a share on sales of $27.24 billion. Analysts are forecasting lower sales in coming quarters as health insurer UnitedHealth Group Inc. (>> UnitedHealth Group Inc.) brings in-house the PBM business it had outsourced to Medco.

Express Scripts saw adjusted claims--a measure that takes into account monthly prescriptions filled in retail pharmacies and 90-day fills through the company's mail-order business--rise 111% in the recent quarter to 410.8 million.

The company's full-year adjusted claims tally about matched its target by nearing 1.4 billion. The company expects 5% to 7% growth in adjusted claims this year.

Its adjusted earnings forecast represents 12% to 15% growth.

Write to Jon Kamp at jon.kamp@dowjones.com

Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires

Stocks mentioned in the article : Express Scripts Holding Co, UnitedHealth Group Inc.
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