Community Health Systems Shares Popped: What You Need to Know

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Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

What: Shares of U.S. hospital operator Community Health Systems (NYSE: CYH  ) surged 16% after the company reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter results.

So what: The nation's second-largest hospital operator reported a profit of $0.85 on net operating revenue of $3.4 billion. This compares to Wall Street's consensus of a $0.83 profit and $3.54 billion in revenue. Community Health also forecast that earnings in 2012 would be in the range of $3.45 to $3.70 versus the $3.58 consensus. Overall, net income declined in the fourth quarter over the year-ago period since the company took a charge for retiring debt early.

Now what: I'm not too overly excited about these results. Community Health did beat by $0.02 on the top line and hit the median point of analysts' 2012 guidance, but the main reason profits are holding up is because of extensive cost-cutting. Without question, the company is cheap based on a forward P/E of just 6, but you're paying for that cheapness with low-to-mid single-digit revenue growth. There's also the concern that spending cuts from the federal budget could trickle down to U.S. hospitals. There are too many uncertainties for me to want to buy the stock here, even at its reduced price point.

Craving more input? Start by adding Community Health Systems to your free and personalized watchlist so you can keep up on the latest news with the company.

Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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