Blue chip stocks aren't built overnight. It takes years, and sometimes decades, to establish big-time brands worthy of the blue chip moniker. But just because blue-chip-worthy stocks are few and far between doesn't mean they're impossible to find.
One company that may join the ranks of blue chips is WellPoint Inc (NYSE:ANTM), the national health insurer best known by its Anthem branded insurance plans.
First, a little bit of background
WellPoint's roots trace back to the 1930s, when its predecessors Blue Cross of California and Blue Cross of Southern California were established. Those two merged in 1982, creating WellPoint Health Network, which merged with Anthem to become WellPoint in 2004.
Today, WellPoint's membership totals more than 37.3 million people, cutting across individual plans sold directly and through exchanges, Medicaid, small and big business, and Medicare.
Thanks to those members, WellPoint's operating revenue last year eclipsed $70 billion, allowing it to generate an operating gain of more than $4 billion.
Anatomy of a blue chip
WellPoint isn't as big as UnitedHealth Group, but it's a major health insurer that gets its revenue by serving a variety of customers.
More than 29 million people pay premiums to WellPoint for plans offered through WellPoint's commercial and specialty business, and WellPoint serves another 7.7 million members through government programs, including Medicaid and Medicare Advantage.
All three of those markets are ripe for growth. Although the company is losing some customers in its group business as companies make decisions to change their plans because of the Affordable Care Act, the opening of the public exchanges is expected to offer the company significant revenue growth over the next few years.
WellPoint signed up 769,000 new members through the exchanges during the first open enrollment period, and WellPoint expects that its exchange membership will hit 3 million in 2018. If the company delivers on that target, it's expected to translate into $16 billion in sales.
WellPoint's Medicaid opportunity is also compelling. The company thinks its Medicaid membership will climb by 1.5 million people between now and 2018. That's a big jump considering that the company serves 4.5 million members through Medicaid plans today. If WellPoint does grow its Medicaid business by that much, it thinks those members will add about $1.5 billion to its annual revenue.
And WellPoint's Medicare Advantage business should enjoy tailwinds, too. That's because roughly 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day through 2029, and many of them are likely to choose Medicare Advantage plans over original Medicare. Based on the company's current market share, WellPoint thinks that it can grow its Medicare revenue by $2.5 billion by 2018.
Going a long way
The ability to grow revenue is critical in low margin businesses like insurance, and the opportunity for sales growth tied to healthcare reform and ageing baby boomers should provide plenty of shareholder friendly cash flow that the company can use for share buybacks and dividend payouts.
WellPoint is likely to have plenty of flexibility to return money to investors. The company is already kicking off $3 billion a year in operating cash, and at the Jefferies Healthcare Conference in June, WellPoint suggested the company's earnings per share could jump from the mid $8 level to more than $14 per share in 2018.
If WellPoint can make good on that projection, the company will not only solidify its chances for blue chip consideration, but make today's share price seem like a relative bargain.
Todd Campbell has no position in any stocks mentioned. Todd owns E.B. Capital Markets, LLC. E.B. Capital's clients may or may not have positions in the companies mentioned. Todd owns Gundalow Advisors, LLC. Gundalow's clients do not have positions in the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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.