Shares of rural hospital operator LifePoint fell 7.73 percent today after the company posted 4th-quarter earnings that fell short of market expectations. Company leaders also revealed in a conference call with investment analysts that the weakness in hospital admission it experienced at the end of last year continued to be reflected in its results for January 2008.
LifePoint closed at $24.95 a share, down $2.09. Shares fell as low as $24.62 at one point during the day.
Analysts peppered the company's execs with hard questions during the conference call (transcript at this link). After CEO Bill Carpenter explained the sources of the shortfall — including a lighter-than-anticipated flu season — and discussed LifePoint's efforts to improve the numbers going forward, John Ransom of Raymond James & Associates commented: "Notwithstanding the operational efforts you are taking, its just hard to see a path towards any kind of earnings growth with the current strategy that you have."
Prefacing her question by saying "forgive me if this sounds rather pejorative," Sheryl Skolnick of CRT Capital noted that LifePoint has had "a rather challenging last several years" and that its people thus ought to be pretty good by now at seeing trouble coming. "Why you are not capturing this stuff better, since you have more experience?" Skolnick asked.
"It has been challenging the last several years," Carpenter responded. "That's the very reason that we started over a year ago to put in place strategic initiatives that we'll use and that we're using in order to grow this business."
At the end of the call, Ken Weakley of Credit Suisse asked the CEO whether LifePoint, after its struggles over the course of several years (including days of market punishment even more severe than today's), still has "any reason to be a publicly traded company."
"Sure," Carpenter replied. "There are lot of things that we can do as publicly traded company that — well, yes. The answer is yes."
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