UPDATE 2-Health insurer Centene's profit surges as memberships jump

Tue Jul 22, 2014 12:07pm EDT

* Second-qtr adj. profit $0.79/share vs est. $0.72

* Profit beats estimates for 6th straight quarter

* Revenue jumps 54 pct to $4.02 bln

* Shares rise as much as 8.5 pct to life high (Adds analysts' comments, share movement and details)

July 22 (Reuters) - Health insurer Centene Corp reported a 24 percent jump in quarterly profit, beating market estimates for the sixth straight quarter, as member signups surged 23 percent.

The company's shares rose as much as 8.5 percent to hit a life high of $81.98 on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday.

"(Centene's) membership and revenue trajectory continue to impress," Jefferies & Co analyst David Windley wrote in a note.

Centene said it had 3.2 million members as of June 30.

"Higher membership contributed upside on premiums in addition to 45 percent sequential growth in service revenues potentially driven by specialty pharma Hep C drug sales," said J.P. Morgan analyst Justin Lake.

Last week, UnitedHealth Group Inc, the largest U.S. health insurer, reported revenue and profit way above analysts' estimates, driven by cost cuts and member additions.

Centene's health benefits ratio, a measure of medical expenses expressed as a percentage of premium revenue, rose to 88.9 percent in the second quarter from 88.4 percent a year earlier.

The company also narrowed its full-year profit forecast range to $3.70-$3.90 per share from $3.60-$3.90.

Centene's net income rose to $48.9 million, or 85 cents per share, in the second quarter ended June 30 from $39.5 million, or 72 cents, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned 79 cents per share.

Revenue jumped 54 percent to $4.02 billion.

Analysts on average had expected earnings of 72 cents per share on revenue of $3.66 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Centene's shares were up 7.5 percent at $81.24 in noon trading. The stock had risen about 38 percent this year to Monday's close. (Reporting by Natalie Grover and Anand Basu; Editing by Savio D'Souza and Kirti Pandey)