U.S. pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts Holding Co (ESRX.O) posted higher quarterly earnings on Monday, but said analyst forecasts for its 2013 results are too aggressive given the weak business climate and unemployment outlook.
The gloomy outlook surprised investors, who pushed its shares down 14 percent in after-hours trading.
"It was out of left field," said Jefferies & Co analyst Brian Tanquilut. "The stock is going to take a beating as people reset their growth expectations for next year."
Express Scripts had been expected to benefit from business synergies and cost savings from its roughly $29 billion acquisition last year of rival Medco Health Solutions Inc.
While 2012 results appear to be on track, Express Scripts' pessimistic comments about next year raise questions about the Medco integration and what else the company might be bracing for on the horizon, Tanquilut said.
"To blame it on the economy is a little surprising," he said. "What they are basically telling us is the Medco acquisition is not as great as we thought it is going to be."
Express Scripts said third-quarter earnings excluding special items were $1.02 per share, compared with 79 cents a year ago.
Analysts on average were expecting 99 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Express Scripts raised the lower end of its forecast range for 2012 earnings by 5 cents and now projects full-year profit this year of $3.65 to $3.75 a share.
But it deemed analysts forecasts for its 2013 earnings as "overly aggressive," citing an expected loss of claims from its UnitedHealth Group Inc (UNH.N) business and the economic environment.
Analysts had projected Express Scripts would earn $4.49 a share in 2013, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company expects the use of healthcare services to remain constrained and client demand and expectations to increase.
The company's stock was down 14 percent in after-hours trading from a close on Monday of $62.88 on Nasdaq.
(Reporting by Susan Kelly in Chicago; Editing by Gary Hill and Andre Grenon)