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UnitedHealth Group Incorporated (UNH) is Attracting Investor Attention: Here is What You Should Know

UnitedHealth Group (UNH) has recently been on Zacks.com's list of the most searched stocks. Therefore, you might want to consider some of the key factors that could influence the stock's performance in the near future.

Over the past month, shares of this largest U.S. health insurer have returned -4.5%, compared to the Zacks S&P 500 composite's -9.1% change. During this period, the Zacks Medical - HMOs industry, which UnitedHealth falls in, has lost 5.5%. The key question now is: What could be the stock's future direction?

While media releases or rumors about a substantial change in a company's business prospects usually make its stock 'trending' and lead to an immediate price change, there are always some fundamental facts that eventually dominate the buy-and-hold decision-making.

Earnings Estimate Revisions

Here at Zacks, we prioritize appraising the change in the projection of a company's future earnings over anything else. That's because we believe the present value of its future stream of earnings is what determines the fair value for its stock.

We essentially look at how sell-side analysts covering the stock are revising their earnings estimates to reflect the impact of the latest business trends. And if earnings estimates go up for a company, the fair value for its stock goes up. A higher fair value than the current market price drives investors' interest in buying the stock, leading to its price moving higher. This is why empirical research shows a strong correlation between trends in earnings estimate revisions and near-term stock price movements.

UnitedHealth is expected to post earnings of $5.45 per share for the current quarter, representing a year-over-year change of +20.6%. Over the last 30 days, the Zacks Consensus Estimate has changed -0.2%.

For the current fiscal year, the consensus earnings estimate of $21.86 points to a change of +14.9% from the prior year. Over the last 30 days, this estimate has changed -0.1%.

For the next fiscal year, the consensus earnings estimate of $24.74 indicates a change of +13.2% from what UnitedHealth is expected to report a year ago. Over the past month, the estimate has changed +0.1%.

With an impressive externally audited track record, our proprietary stock rating tool -- the Zacks Rank -- is a more conclusive indicator of a stock's near-term price performance, as it effectively harnesses the power of earnings estimate revisions. The size of the recent change in the consensus estimate, along with three other factors related to earnings estimates, has resulted in a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) for UnitedHealth.

The chart below shows the evolution of the company's forward 12-month consensus EPS estimate:

12 Month EPS

12-month consensus EPS estimate for UNH _12MonthEPSChartUrl
12-month consensus EPS estimate for UNH _12MonthEPSChartUrl

Revenue Growth Forecast

Even though a company's earnings growth is arguably the best indicator of its financial health, nothing much happens if it cannot raise its revenues. It's almost impossible for a company to grow its earnings without growing its revenue for long periods. Therefore, knowing a company's potential revenue growth is crucial.

For UnitedHealth, the consensus sales estimate for the current quarter of $80.72 billion indicates a year-over-year change of +11.6%. For the current and next fiscal years, $322.21 billion and $347.75 billion estimates indicate +12% and +7.9% changes, respectively.

Last Reported Results and Surprise History

UnitedHealth reported revenues of $80.33 billion in the last reported quarter, representing a year-over-year change of +12.6%. EPS of $5.57 for the same period compares with $4.70 a year ago.

Compared to the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $79.58 billion, the reported revenues represent a surprise of +0.94%. The EPS surprise was +6.3%.

The company beat consensus EPS estimates in each of the trailing four quarters. The company topped consensus revenue estimates each time over this period.

Valuation

Without considering a stock's valuation, no investment decision can be efficient. In predicting a stock's future price performance, it's crucial to determine whether its current price correctly reflects the intrinsic value of the underlying business and the company's growth prospects.

Comparing the current value of a company's valuation multiples, such as its price-to-earnings (P/E), price-to-sales (P/S), and price-to-cash flow (P/CF), to its own historical values helps ascertain whether its stock is fairly valued, overvalued, or undervalued, whereas comparing the company relative to its peers on these parameters gives a good sense of how reasonable its stock price is.

The Zacks Value Style Score (part of the Zacks Style Scores system), which pays close attention to both traditional and unconventional valuation metrics to grade stocks from A to F (an An is better than a B; a B is better than a C; and so on), is pretty helpful in identifying whether a stock is overvalued, rightly valued, or temporarily undervalued.

UnitedHealth is graded B on this front, indicating that it is trading at a discount to its peers. Click here to see the values of some of the valuation metrics that have driven this grade.

Bottom Line

The facts discussed here and much other information on Zacks.com might help determine whether or not it's worthwhile paying attention to the market buzz about UnitedHealth. However, its Zacks Rank #3 does suggest that it may perform in line with the broader market in the near term.


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