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This Healthcare Stock Just Gave Investors 100 Billion Reasons to Buy It

It's still early days in this latest earnings season, but it seems we can already tag one winner in the healthcare sector -- take a bow, UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH).

As the season lurched into action, the sprawling healthcare insurer and services provider published its first-quarter results. These not only showed very encouraging growth dynamics in key fundamentals, they topped analyst expectations. Read on for a digest on UnitedHealth's healthy quarter.

Growth and resilience in the first quarter

You know you're dealing with a large and important company when you see a quarterly revenue figure that hovers just under $100 billion (yes, that's billion with a "b"). UnitedHealth's Q1 top line was $99.8 billion, which was a robust 9% higher on a year-over-year basis. It also accounts for a concentrated cyberattack on the company. Factoring out that incident results in an adjusted revenue figure of just over $100 billion.

As for profitability, UnitedHealth's non-GAAP (adjusted) net income came in at $6.43 billion, which bettered the year-ago quarter by almost 9%. On a per-share basis, that number shook out to $6.91. Both line items were comfortably above the average analyst estimates. Collectively, prognosticators tracking the stock were modeling headline revenue of under $99.3 billion, accompanied by an adjusted net income result of $6.62 per share.

Management attributed the growth in its foundational UnitedHealthcare insurance division to an increase in insured people (and the premiums they pay for their coverage). The company said its customer lists grew by 2 million during the period.

On the costs side, the single most deleterious item during the quarter was that cyberattack. This targeted the sprawling company's Change Healthcare billing and payments management unit. The direct response and business disruption costs that arose from the ambush dinged results noticeably, to the tune of $0.74 per share in the quarter alone. I should note here that the adjusted earnings figure accounts for the business disruption expenses, but not the (far higher) direct response ones.

Several days after unveiling those quarterly results, UnitedHealth updated the public about its ongoing investigation into the cyberattack. It said that files containing protected health and personally identifiable information were compromised in the incident. However, it added: "To date, the company has not seen evidence of exfiltration of materials such as doctors' charts or full medical histories among the data."

Future potential tops cyber concerns

Perhaps that's one reason why UnitedHealth left its full-year, adjusted net income guidance unchanged. The company is still modeling $27.50 to $28.00 for the figure. That would compare quite favorably to the $25.12 the company earned in 2023, which in turn was meatier than the $22.19 of the previous year.

All in all, leaving the cyberattack aside for a moment, it was a good quarter for UnitedHealth. It posted growth where it counts -- in that ever-growing pile of customer premium payments -- and it seems it'll keep following that well-trodden path to improved financial performance.

I'd be concerned about the cyberattack if I were a shareholder. While management has been admirably reactive to the incident and transparent in detailing its financial effects, I'd like to read more about how it intends to mitigate the operational damage (or prevent potential new hacks). In this world, it's not great to be uncertain about cyber-protection, so it'd be good if the company's top brass were to address it more comprehensively soon.

Having said that, however, I think UnitedHealth is a solid stock to own that has decent upside. It'll surely continue to benefit from an American population that continues to skew older, and thus need more healthcare. The company also pays a reliable quarterly dividend that is well-supported by its free cash flow. Its 1.5% yield is competitive with those of other big insurers (for example, Elevance Health's 1.2%).

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Eric Volkman has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends UnitedHealth Group. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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