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UPDATE: CNO shares soar after quarterly profit rises

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CNO Financial Group Inc. shares jumped 11 percent Wednesday morning after the Carmel-based life and health insurer reported better-than-expected quarterly financial results.

CNO shares hit $7.15 each, a rise of 79 cents over yesterday's close.

The company formerly known as Conseco Inc. boosted its operating profits 62 percent in the fourth quarter, besting analysts’ estimates by two cents per share.

The insurer, in an after-markets announcement, said it earned $168.2 million in the final three months of last year, a big jump from the $18.2 million profit it posted in the same quarter the prior year.

Most of the increase in the most recent quarter came from investment gains. Excluding those, as well as special accounting and debt charges, CNO had an operating profit of $51.7 million in the quarter, or 18 cents per common share.

On that same basis, Wall Street analysts were expecting CNO to earn 16 cents per share, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters. A year ago, CNO’s operating profit was $32 million, or 15 cents per share.

Revenue for the quarter rose nearly 2 percent, to $1.08 billion.

“We also were pleased that our core businesses continued to perform well, and key measures of financial strength, including our risk-based capital ratio and our debt-to-total-capital ratio, also improved,” said CNO CEO Jim Prieur in a statement.

The main improvement came on policies that CNO still holds but is no longer actively selling. That division, called “Other CNO Business,” recorded a fourth-quarter  profit of $6 million, compared with a nearly $30 million loss in the same quarter last year.

That helped mask a drop in profit at CNO’s main Bankers Life unit, based in Chicago. It earned $71.4 million in the quarter, a fall of 16 percent.

CNO’s Carmel-based unit, Washington National, boosted profit by 25 percent in the fourth quarter, to $28.7 million.

For all of 2010, CNO earned $284.6 million, more than triple its 2009 profit, even though revenue declined by 6 percent, to $4.08 billion.

CNO shares closed Tuesday before the earnings announcement at $6.36 apiece, down 2 percent for the day. Before Wednesday morning, CNO shares had fallen 6.2 percent this year, even as the Standard & Poor’s 500 has risen 4.6 percent.

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