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Sonic shock

Pathology and medical diagnostic services company, Sonic Healthcare Limited (ASX: SHL) has reported a 5% increase in net profit for the six months to December 2012, to $151 million. That comes on the back of a 3.4% rise in revenues to $1.73 billion, compared to the previous period. The high Australian dollar impacted revenues to the tune of $36 million – which is not all that much as a percentage of total revenues.

Earnings per share came in at 39.5 cents, a 4.4% rise over the previous year. Sonic increased the interim dividend by 1 cent to 25 cents, partly-franked.

While that all appears to be a fair to decent result, investors weren’t happy, sending the shares down over 7% in early morning trade.

And it wasn’t hard to figure out why.

Sonic downgraded its full year forecast, expecting growth in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and appreciation (EBITDA), to come in at the lower end of its previous guidance of 5-10%. Growth in the US has been much lower than expected, falling 2.1% on a constant currency basis, impacted by Superstorm Sandy, unexpected Medicare fee cuts and the weak economic environment. In Europe, several customers have short paid the company to the tune of €16 million, and Sonic is pursuing recovery of these.

Like other operators in the highly regulated healthcare space such as Ramsay Health Care Limited (ASX: RHC), Primary Health Care Limited (ASX: PRY) and Sigma Pharaceuticals Limited (ASX: SIP), Sonic’s revenues and earnings depend on government policies to a large extent. When these change, as in the US and Germany recently, earnings can take a hit.

Foolish investors need to bear that in mind when considering an investment in this sector.

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