Aetna beats 4Q profit forecasts, eyes potential move to Boston

HARTFORD -- Connecticut’s business leaders are keeping a close watch on talks between Aetna, one of Hartford’s major insurance companies, and Boston, as a possible deal could have the company leaving the capital city.

The insurance giant has been operating in Hartford for more than 160 years. Now, ongoing talks with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker could be pointing to a possible move out of Connecticut and into the neighboring state.

These talks between Aetna and Massachusetts have been reportedly months in the making. The company has been seeking out a roughly 400,000 square foot space over the state line, according to the Hartford Courant. The Courant is also reporting commercial real estate brokers in Boston say they’ve heard of talks to try to get the company into city.

The talks related to Aetna moving out of Connecticut come just one year after Fairfield based General Electric took their company their work to Boston. At that time the company pointed to a proposal to triple a three percent tax on computer and data processing services as one major reason the opted to exit the state.

Aetna has roughly 6,000 employees with the majority of their workers based in Hartford.

"It's the world we live in right now. It's a very competitive environment. Companies are looking all the time how to best deploy their resources and deploy their talent," said Joe Brennan President & CEO, Connecticut Business and Industry Association.

"Aetna is a very special company with deep, deep roots in Connecticut." If they left, he said, "It would be a serious, serious hit to Connecticut."

Brennan says murmurs about Aetna leaving stem back to 2015, when Connecticut proposed a tax on computer and data processing services. "That would have been a multimillion dollar hit to Aetna and other companies. And that kind of, you know, brought everything to a head."

"Aetna is one of our most important employers. They have a longstanding history in the City of Hartford," said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin. "What I'm focused on as mayor is doing everything in my power, everything possible, to be a good partner to Aetna."

"We are seeking to poach from other states, and other states seek to poach from us," said Gov. Dan Malloy, who said he spoke with Aetna President Karen Lynch in the last 10 days:
"We're going to compete. We do compete. And we have a lot of advantages."

On Tuesday morning, Aetna reported fourth-quarter earnings of $139 million.

On a per-share basis, the company said it had net income of 39 cents. Earnings, adjusted for one-time gains and costs, were $1.63 per share.

The results topped Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $1.45 per share.

The health insurer posted revenue of $15.73 billion in the period, missing Street forecasts. Six analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $15.87 billion.

Aetna expects full-year earnings to be $8.55 per share.

Aetna shares have fallen almost 6 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index has risen almost 2 percent. The stock has increased 18 percent in the last 12 months.

On January 24, a federal judge ruled that Aetna was not being truthful in their reasoning to pull of Obamacare exchanges in 11 different states last summer.

Aetna’s decision to pull out of Obamacare in those certain states came just one month after the Department of Justice anti-justice grounds, ultimately blocking a merge deal with Humana.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.