It must be nice to be the management of a company left for dead. You can turn in a pitiful quarter, lower guidance, and still see your stock jump 19%.  

Yeah, I wouldn't mind running Cigna (NYSE:CI). For the fourth quarter, the company registered a net loss $0.77 per share compared to a net income of $0.93 per share this time last year. Much of that loss was from its retirement annuity and variable annuity death benefits businesses. With guaranteed payments and a slumping market, it's to be expected that the segments would be hurt.

The company lowered guidance for next year, but even if it can hit the new targets it'll be a wild improvement from last year -- its guidance of $3.95 to $4.25 would be a 15% to 24% increase on last year's EPS.

Cigna's not the only health insurer that's come back from the dead. Just look at these walking zombies:

Company

Change from 52-week low

Cigna

167%

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH)

98.5%

Humana (NYSE:HUM)

100%

Coventry Health Care (NYSE:CVH)

73.1%

WellPoint (NYSE:WLP)

62.6%

Aetna (NYSE:AET)

135%

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

The companies still have a ways to go to get back to the highs of 2007, but at least they're no longer on their death beds. As the economy improves and more jobs result in more insured employees, the companies will be able to get out of the hospital and back to growing earnings at a healthy clip again.

More Foolishness:

WellPoint and UnitedHealth are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. If you're interested in picking through the wreckage for possible turnaround candidates, you should have the Inside Value team on your side. Check it out for free with a 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. UnitedHealth and Coventry Health Care are Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool owns shares of UnitedHealth. The Fool has a disclosure policy.