Towers Watson Bets Big On ObamaCare

| About: Willis Towers (WLTW)
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One of the key bits of the Obamacare package now before the Supreme Court is the creation of Health Insurance Exchanges designed to provide competition for buyers of health insurance.

While some states have hesitated to set up these exchanges Towers Watson (TW), a roll-up among several U.S. and U.K. consulting houses that took its current form in 2010, has decided that's an opportunity. So it has rolled the dice with a $435 million cash offer to buy Extend Health, which is in the business of running those kinds of exchanges.

Extend's current business is Medicare exchanges, but the structure of the new exchanges, due to be operational by the end of 2013, would be very similar. Its CEO is Bryce Williams, who got into the business through eHealth.

This is a major dice roll for Towers Watson. Its balance sheet shows $427 million in cash and it's covering a $435 million transaction. Analysts say Towers Watson may have paid too much, and the company admits that in the short run there will be a $0.02-per-share hit to earnings this year, but that it will be accretive afterward.

In its run-up to the transaction the company also took on a new Chief Information Officer, named John Dick, most of whose experience is in the banking business. That's actually pretty relevant here, in terms of security, finance, privacy, and the need to deal with high volumes of sensitive data. (The operational expertise will come from Extend Health, with Dick acting as the main company's eyes on progress.)

After an initial gap-down in the share price of 10%, Towers Watson stock recovered in Monday's trading and currently sits just $1/share lower than it did before the deal. But investors need to look at this as an entirely new company. Towers Watson's work in human resources will help it bring lots of potential clients to the exchange, and assuming businesses and consumers are both required to seek insurance over the next few years growth could be enormous, since it would have a massive head start.

It's speculative, true. Towers Watson is no longer a risk-off stock doing consulting, but a risk-on stock managing a market. But it's an interesting speculation, and if the Supreme Court rules for the government the stock could run up.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.