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Obamacare's Rebound Helps UnitedHealth Lead the Dow's Triple-Digit Jump

By Dan Carroll – Feb 14, 2014 at 2:30PM

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Obamacare sign-ups surge in January, pushing UnitedHealth and other insurance stocks up big today as part of the market's rally.

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

Investors have forgotten all about the market's earlier slump in 2014 today as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI)  blasted into a 126-point gain as of 2:30 p.m. EST. All but a handful of the index's blue-chip stocks have jumped higher so far. UnitedHealth Group (UNH -0.80%) is making the biggest strides today, climbing more than 3.3% as fresh, rosy Obamacare figures have created a great day for the insurance industry and its shareholders. Let's catch up on what you need to know.

Consumption beats, Obamacare bounces back
Welcome economic data kicked off the Dow's good day, as the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer confidence report showed American consumer sentiment holding steady in February from the previous month's reading. Consumer confidence came in at a level of 81.2, while the average estimate had been for a fall to 80.2. That's good news for the economy, which has struggled with lackluster jobs growth over the last few months. Consumption makes up the largest part of the overall U.S. economy, and more spending means Americans are feeling better about the nation's direction.

Meanwhile, Obamacare and insurers such as UnitedHealth are looking good today as the Department of Health and Human Services released new figures for the health care law that showed subscriber enrollment jumped by 1.2 million in January. That not only brought total enrollment up to 3.3 million for the first four months of Obamacare's launch, but also topped the Obama administration's projection for January enrollment.

That helped kicked stocks across the insurance industry up today, with UnitedHealth investors welcoming the big jump in share price after a ho-hum start to the year for America's largest publicly traded insurer. UnitedHealth's scope and sheer membership size means it will be less affected by Obamacare's ups and downs in the law's early going than smaller insurers, and it has cautiously only jumped into a few state health insurance exchanges, while WellPoint (ELV 0.50%) and other more aggressive insurers operate Obamacare plans in many more states and thus have more riding on its success. WellPoint's stock certainly has made the most of today, jumping 3% on the good news.

Make no mistake: this good data is still well received by UnitedHealth. In particular, the company has reason to applaud figures showing that more young people have been signing up for coverage lately. Greater youth enrollment figures is critical for UnitedHealth and other insurers to keep medical costs down from older, sicker patients who have signed up for Obamacare plans. While youth enrollment's still off from the original 40% of total sign-ups that the HHS aimed for before the law's launch, the increasing acceptance of Obamacare by America's young people suggests further growth in future months, even if both those sign-ups and total enrollment remain below the administration's original targets so far.

Dan Carroll has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint. The Motley Fool owns shares of WellPoint. We Fools may not 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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Stocks Mentioned

Dow Jones Industrial Average (Price Return) Stock Quote
Dow Jones Industrial Average (Price Return)
^DJI
$33,849.46 (%)
UnitedHealth Group Stock Quote
UnitedHealth Group
UNH
$528.00 (-0.80%) $-4.27
Elevance Health Inc. Stock Quote
Elevance Health Inc.
ELV
$515.36 (0.50%) $2.58

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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