Humana shares soar on report of possible sale

Humana shares soar on report of possible saleThe front entrance to the Humana building in Louisville, Ky.(Photo: Alton Strupp/The Courier-Journal)Humana (HUM) shares soared to record heights Friday afternoon on speculation that the company, one of the nation’s biggest health insurers, might be up for sale.Analysts have been discussing for a few weeks the possibility that large health insurers flush with cash may be hunting for a big acquisition. Deal-friendly low interest rates and expectations for another wave of consolidation also are fueling the speculation.The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Humana is considering a sale and has received takeover interest.A Humana spokesman did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.Louisville, Ky.-based Humana is the second-largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans, which are seen as a key source of future growth for insurers. Enrollment has already grown briskly the past several years for these privately-run, federally-funded versions of the Medicare program for people over age 65 and the disabled.That’s expected to continue as Baby Boomers become eligible for the coverage and as more companies drop retiree health benefits. The health care overhaul has chopped funding for these plans, but the worst of that has passed, and analysts see much less uncertainty in the future for the coverage.Plus insurers are gaining a better understanding of the health care overhaul, the massive federal law that has helped provide coverage for millions. They are learning that scale matters in terms of gaining negotiating leverage for rates over care providers.”There’s got to be another wave of consolidation that occurs, and our view is that Humana would either be the first to go or be one of the first to actually make an acquisition themselves,” said Thomas Carroll, who covers the industry for the investment bank Stifel.Shares of Humana soared nearly 19% to $212.49 in late afternoon trading while broader indexes slipped.After rising almost 70% in just the past year, Humana shares saw the biggest jump in dollar value in company history following the Journal’s report Friday. There were three only other instances in company history where the percentage jump was greater.TheStreet's Jim Cramer answers your Twitter questions about Blackstone (BX), Twitter (TWTR), and other stocks from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. NewslookThe economy hasn’t fully recovered since its slowdown during first-quarter, one economist said. 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