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Conseco shares fall after dip in fourth-quarter profits

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Investors responded coolly to Conseco Inc.’s fourth straight quarter of profits, pushing the company’s shares down as much as 3.75 percent.

The Carmel-based life and health insurer earned $18.2 million, or 9 cents per diluted common share, in the fourth quarter, compared with a whopping loss in the same quarter a year ago of $453.3 million, or $2.45 per share.

Revenue for the quarter rose 1 percent, to $1.06 billion, according to results released late Thursday night.

On Friday morning, Conseco’s share price fell as much as 20 cents per share, to $5.13. Its shares are now up 2.6 percent for the year.

Profits were pared in the most recent quarter by investment losses, additional debt payments and a change in the value of tax assets. Excluding those effects, Conseco would have earned $32 million, or 15 cents per share.

Conseco's operating results were dampened by 4 cents per share because it set aside $16 million to settle legal cases. One case involves 700 former life insurance policyholders who opted out of a previous class-action settlement. The other case concerns 15,000 former customers who held Conseco’s Lifetrend insurance.

Excluding those special items, Conseco would have earned 19 cents per share. On that adjusted basis, Wall Street analysts expected Conseco to earn 20 cents per share, according to a survey by Thomson Financial Network.

"We are pleased to report that Conseco delivered its fourth consecutive profitable quarter," CEO Jim Prieur said in a statement. He highlighted that Conseco’s sales of new life and health insurance policies surged 18 percent in the quarter, compared with the same period a year ago.

Conseco posted sales gains of 28 percent at its Chicago-based Bankers Life unit and a gain of 4 percent at its Carmel-based Conseco Insurance Group. However, the company’s Colonial Penn subsidiary, based in Philadelphia, saw its sales drop 22 percent compared with the fourth quarter last year.

For the year, Conseco’s profits totaled $85.7 million, or 45 cents per share, compared with a loss in 2008 of $1.1 billion, which was fueled by a major restructuring that transferred a block of money-losing policies to a trust.

Income from operations totaled $164.6 million last year, up 20 percent from 2008 operating income of $137 million.

Revenue for the year clocked in at $4.3 billion, up by 3.6 percent over 2008.

In the fall of 2009, Conseco launched a series of moves to shore up its capital position and pay down debt. Conseco reported Friday that it now holds $146.1 million in cash, up from $85.6 million a year ago.

"Our refinancing addressed our most pressing financial priority,” Prieur told analysts in a conference call this morning. “The ability to complete such a transaction clearly demonstrates investor confidence in the company.”
 

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