October 15, 2013

Shares Of Charleston Software Firm Benefitfocus Jump 15% On New Ratings

John Mcdermott  /  Post and Courier

Shares of Benefitfocus Inc. jumped Monday as several financial analysts began coverage of the Charleston software company's newly listed stock.

At least two researchers issued a "buy" rating. Analysts at Jefferies and Deutsche Bank said the company it is likely to capitalize on big changes in the health care sector.

Shares of Benefitfocus closed up more than 15 percent, or $6.46, to $48.32. Piper Jaffray and Cannacord Genuity also initiated coverage of Monday.

Daniel Island-based Benefitfocus was formed about 13 years ago and has grown to about 800 employees. Its cloud-based software enables workers enroll in and manage their medical coverage and other benefits. The firm targets big companies and other large organizations.

The stock hit the market last month at $26.50 a share. It's listed on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol "BNFT."

Jefferies analyst Ross MacMillan said in a note to clients that Benefitfocus has plenty of room to grow. It has only 12 percent of available carrier customers and 4 percent of employers with greater than 1,000 workers in the U.S., he said.

MacMillan, who follows Charleston-based Blackbaud Inc. as well, also thinks Benefitfocus has a competitive advantage because its customers include large insurers like Aetna and Allstate.

Nandan Amladi of Deutsche Bank said the company has a $5 billion market opportunity that is projected to triple to $15 billion by 2020.

He believes Benefitfocus could be a winner in the shift from employer-administered health benefits programs to employee-administered programs in the next few years.

Both MacMillan and Amladi gave "buy" ratings and $50 price targets.

Benefitfocus said raised $70.6 million from its initial public offering last month. It said it plans to use the net proceeds from last week's stock sale "for working capital and general corporate purposes, including executing its growth strategy and developing new products and services."