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UnitedHealth CEO makes $98.6 million from stock options

Saturday, April 17, 2010; A08

INSURERS

CEO makes $98.6 million from stock options

The chief executive of UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation's largest health insurers, reaped almost $100 million from exercising stock options last year, the company reported.

Stephen J. Hemsley exercised 4.9 million options in February 2009 at a gain of $98.6 million, the company said in a regulatory filing late Thursday. The options were awarded almost a decade earlier. After using some shares to pay for the transactions and cover related taxes, Hemsley held on to the stock instead of cashing it in, the company reported.

The disclosure comes at a time when executive pay in general and compensation of health insurance executives in particular have been flash points for the public. According to measurement standards used by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Hemsley's compensation for 2009 was a less stratospheric $8.9 million, up from $3.2 million in 2008. The 2009 total included a salary of $1.3 million, which was unchanged from the previous year, and a cash bonus of $2 million, up from $1.8 million the year before. It also included $5.6 million attributed to stock-related awards.

The compensation committee of UnitedHealth's board believed that the 2009 compensation package "was appropriate to recognize Mr. Hemsley's overall leadership in positioning the Company for long-term success in a very difficult overall economic environment," UnitedHealth said in the report filed with the SEC on Thursday.

-- David S. Hilzenrath

CONSTRUCTION

March gains higher than expected

March housing construction was up for the second straight month, rising more than expected and hitting its highest level in 16 months. But the gain came almost entirely from new multifamily homes, which make up only 20 percent of the market.

Construction of single-family homes -- the largest segment of the market -- fell 0.9 percent in March to an annual rate of 531,000, the Commerce Department said Friday.

Overall construction rose 1.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 626,000, outpacing the 610,000 figure forecasts predicted. The Commerce Department also revised February housing starts, from a 5.9 percent drop to a 1.1 percent gain.

Construction of new multifamily homes soared nearly 19 percent last month. Permits for single-family homes rose in February, which suggests future growth in housing starts. Applications for all building permits rose 7.5 percent last month to an annual rate of 685,000.

Friday's housing starts report stands in contrast to news earlier this week that foreclosures rose in the first quarter of 2010.

-- Frank Ahrens

ALSO IN BUSINESS

GE earnings fall 32 percent: General Electric on Friday reported a 32 percent drop in its first-quarter earnings, but the financial bellwether said it saw signs of improvement in its own results and the broader economy.

Overall, GE said it earned $1.87 billion, or 17 cents per share, after deducting preferred dividends in the January-March period, down from $2.75 billion, or 26 cents per share, a year ago. Revenue fell 5 percent to $36.6 billion from $38.4 billion a year ago.

-- Associated Press

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