February 6, 2012 / 1:45 PM / 6 years ago

UPDATE 2-HCA profit tops expectations; shares rise

* EPS ex-items 94 cents vs Street view 76 cents

* 2012 earnings forecast in line with analyst estimates

* Declares special dividend of $2 per share

* Shares rise 6 percent in early NYSE trading

Feb 6 (Reuters) - HCA Holdings Inc, the largest U.S. hospital operator, on Monday reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings as it admitted more patients to its facilities and recorded a one-time gain from an investment, sending its shares up 6 percent.

A focus on controlling operating expenses and a reduction in bad debts helped offset lower surgical volumes, the company said.

Cardiovascular surgery volumes were down for the third consecutive quarter, though the rate of decline slowed, company officials said on a conference call. Managed-care admissions, which slumped during the economic downturn as workers lost jobs and insurance, rose slightly for the second quarter in a row.

HCA also said its board approved a special dividend of $2 per share to be paid to shareholders in February.

“Overall, the results and outlook look very strong despite the many moving parts this quarter,” Oppenheimer & Co analyst Michael Wiederhorn said in a note to clients.

HCA posted fourth-quarter net income of $1.94 billion, or $4.25 per share, compared with $283 million, or 65 cents per share, a year ago. Results for the 2011 quarter include gains from facilities sales and the acquisition of a controlling stake in HealthOne, a Denver-based hospital system joint venture.

Excluding the one-time gains, earnings were 94 cents per share.

Analysts, on average, had expected 76 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Fourth-quarter revenue rose 8.5 percent to $7.77 billion. Same facility-equivalent admissions increased 3.2 percent.

Nashville, Tennessee-based HCA forecast adjusted 2012 earnings per share of $3.35 to $3.55 on revenue of $32 billion to $33 billion. The outlook anticipates strengthening demand for in-patient services, continued strong demand for emergency services and stable commercial insurance enrollment trends, the company said.

Analysts, on average, are expecting 2012 earnings excluding items of $3.46 per share and revenue of $35.10 billion.

HCA shares rose 6.1 percent to $28.08 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

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