Humana Inc. has pulled out of a major health care conference and said it will not comment on rumors of a merger, actions that will likely fuel Wall Street speculation that the insurer is part of a developing deal.
Many Wall Street analysts have named Indianapolis-based Anthem Inc. as a likely buyer, even though reports by Dow Jones Newswires and Bloomberg News have cited other companies as the most likely suitors.
Shares of the Medicare Advantage coverage provider, which hit an all-time high late last month, rose Monday while broader indexes slipped.
Humana said that it has received analyst and investor questions about its outlook and the possibility that it will "participate in industry consolidation." The insurer said that as part of a long-standing policy it won't comment on speculation and that it will observe a quiet period that lasts until it announces second-quarter results July 29.
Humana Chief Financial Officer Brian Kane was scheduled to speak Wednesday at a Goldman Sachs global HealthCare conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Kane is a former Goldman, Sachs executive who joined Humana last year.
Several other major figures in the industry, including the CEOs of Humana rivals Aetna Inc. and Anthem Inc., are listed as conference speakers.
Humana Inc. is the nation's second-largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans, which are privately run, federally funded versions of the Medicare program for people over age 65 and the disabled. The plans are expected to be a key source of growth for health insurers as the nation ages.
The insurer's statement Monday may mean that merger talks are ongoing, Leerink analyst Ana Gupte said in a research note. She added that Aetna, Anthem and Cigna Corp. may all have an interest in Humana.
"We also conclude that the talks will likely culminate in a deal," Gupte wrote.
Humana shares soared to an all-time high of $219.79 on May 29 after The Wall Street Journal reported that the insurer was a takeover target.
Shares of the Louisville-based company climbed $2.30, to $216.84 each, in heavy trading Monday while broader indexes and Anthem shares both fell slightly. Aetna and Cigna shares climbed less than 1 percent.