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Community Health's 4Q profit doubles

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) -- Fourth-quarter earnings for Community Health Systems Inc. doubled compared with the final quarter of 2011, when the hospital operator absorbed a big hit from the early retirement of some debt.

The Franklin, Tenn., company on Thursday reported net income of $62.6 million, or 69 cents per share, in the three months that ended Dec. 31. That compares to earnings of $30.9 million, or 35 cents per share, in the final quarter of 2011.

Earnings were 85 cents, unchanged from a year ago, when one-time items, including the $66 million loss in 2011 from retiring debt early, were excluded.

Revenue rose about 9 percent to $3.76 billion.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected, on average, earnings of 86 cents per share on $3.25 billion in revenue.

The company owns, leases or operates 135 hospitals in 29 states, or four more hospitals than it had at the end of 2011. Admissions at hospitals open at least a year rose 1 percent.

The company's total operating costs and expenses also climbed nearly 10 percent to $2.99 billion in the quarter.

For all of 2012, Community Health earned $265.6 million, or $2.96 per share, on nearly $15 billion in revenue.

For 2013, the company expects income from continuing operations to range between $3.50 and $3.90 per share. Analysts expect, on average, earnings of $3.84 per share.

The company also predicted revenue, minus a provision for bad debts, of $13.3 billion to $13.8 billion.

BMO Capital analyst Jennifer Lynch said in a research note investors are likely more focused on 2014, when the health care overhaul will expand insurance coverage to millions of uninsured people.

Hospitals could reap large gains from this, as the number of uninsured patients they treat is expected to decline.

"We continue to believe that all eyes are on 2014 and suspect expectations around next year's potential earnings power will be more crucial to shares," she said.

Company shares fell 38 cents, or 1 percent, to $41.12 in late morning trading Friday, but the stock still traded near the 52-week high price of $42.98 that it hit Wednesday. The shares have climbed about 35 percent in 2013.