HCA's unchanged annual forecast clouds better-than-expected quarter

FILE PHOTO: Illustration shows HCA Healthcare Inc logo

By Sriparna Roy and Sneha S K

(Reuters) -HCA Healthcare on Friday beat Wall Street estimates for quarterly profit and revenue but left its annual forecast unchanged, sending shares of the largest for-profit US hospital operator down nearly 5%.

Analysts said the maintained outlook may disappoint investors, but called it "conservative" after a jump in demand for medical services late last year, partly due to a COVID-induced backlog.

"Demand for healthcare over the course of the year will continue to be strong... it may not be at this particular level, but we're pretty encouraged," said CEO Samuel Hazen on a conference call.

The unchanged forecast "likely reflects a conservative posture" by HCA, said Stephens analyst Scott Fidel.

Analysts expect hospitals to benefit from an aging population and a shift in the preference for ambulatory care centers that do not require patients to stay overnight.

HCA had forecast 2024 earnings per share between $19.70 and $21.20 and revenue in the range of $67.75 billion to $70.25 billion in January.

Shares of rivals Tenet Healthcare and Universal Health Services fell between 1% and 3% in early trade on Friday.

HCA's quarterly beat was helped by higher patient admissions due to demand for healthcare services and easing costs related to staffing constraints.

The company said it saw higher inpatient admissions, which require patients to stay in the hospital while getting treated.

Same-facility inpatient surgeries increased 1.7%, while same facility outpatient surgeries declined 2.1% in the first quarter ended March 31.

The Nashville, Tennessee-based hospital operator saw a 6.2% increase in same-facility admissions, while emergency room visits rose by 7.2%.

HCA posted quarterly revenue of $17.34 billion, beating estimates of $16.78 billion and reported an adjusted profit of $5.36 per share for the reported quarter. Analysts on average had expected a profit of $5.01 per share, according to LSEG data.

(Reporting by Sriparna Roy and Sneha S K in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Shailesh Kuber)