Anthem, Cigna shares rise after U.S. says it’s open to settlement

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A Justice Department lawyer on Friday told the judge in the antitrust case over Anthem Inc.’s $48 billion takeover of Cigna Corp. that the government was willing to hear settlement offers from the companies.

Cigna’s shares rose 4.5 percent to $132.27, and Anthem was up 1.5 percent to $130.06 by 1 p.m. Friday.

“We’re always willing to hear any proposals the defendants have,” Jon Jacobs, a lawyer for the Justice Department, said at a hearing in Washington, D.C. It’s common for the government to express a willingness to entertain settlement offers, but Jacobs’ remarks are no guarantee that an agreement can be reached.

The Justice Department’s antitrust division sued last month to block the Anthem-Cigna tie-up. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the trial would probably begin in mid- to late November. She also said that she couldn’t rule on the case before the end of the year.

The companies have until April 30 to complete the deal. A Cigna lawyer told the judge that he “can’t say” whether Cigna would terminate the merger if it doesn’t close by then but that the health insurer is committed to defending the combination in court.

In a note to investors, analyst Ana Gupte of Leerink Partners said of the Justice Department’s offer to hear settlement proposals, “This is clearly a surprise.” Gupte added that Leerink, and probably the rest of Wall Street, have viewed the probability of a successful trial or settlement at 25 percent or lower.

“Of course the DOJ is going to always be willing to engage in discussions,” said Jennifer Rie, an antitrust analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “I still think it’s hard to understand what the fix would be for all the issues that were raised by the Anthem-Cigna deal.”

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