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WellPoint says earnings could slightly exceed expectations

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WellPoint Inc. said Tuesday that it expects 2012 earnings at the high end or slightly above a range that the health insurer reaffirmed last month.

The Indianapolis-based insurer also said it expects adjusted earnings per share to grow moderately this year, when the insurer plans to buy back stock and have a lower share count.

WellPoint shares were up 41 cents Tuesday morning, or less than 1 percent, to $60.16 each.

In December, WellPoint said it expected profit in the range of of $7.30 to $7.40 per share in 2012. That estimate doesn't count items such as investment gains and litigation or acquisition costs. The forecast also doesn't include costs tied to its acquisition of fellow insurer Amerigroup Corp., a $4.46 billion deal WellPoint recently completed.

Analysts expect, on average, 2012 earnings of $7.46 per share, according to FactSet.

WellPoint will release full fourth-quarter and 2012 financial results on Jan. 23.

WellPoint runs Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in several states and is the nation's second largest health insurer, trailing only UnitedHealth Group Inc.

The insurer will announce its forecast for 2013 later this quarter as well. Analysts and investors also are waiting for the announcement of a new CEO.

Former CEO Angela Braly resigned in August, a month after WellPoint cut its 2012 outlook and reported second-quarter earnings that fell, missing analyst expectations. WellPoint then beat Wall Street expectations in the third quarter, when the insurer recorded its first quarterly, year-over-year earnings increase since early 2011.

The insurer is slated to deliver a presentation Tuesday at the annual JP Morgan health care conference in San Francisco.

WellPoint competitor Aetna also will deliver a presentation Tuesday at the JP Morgan conference. Aetna on Monday reaffirmed its forecast for 2012 adjusted earnings of about $5.10 per share. The Hartford, Conn., insurer also expects 2013 earnings of at least $5.40 per share.

Analysts expect earnings of $5.15 per share in 2012 and $5.53 per share this year.

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