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Benefitfocus climbs as analysts give 'Buy' ratings

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October 14, 2013 11:26 AM EST | AP

NEW YORK — NEW YORK (AP) — Benefitfocus climbed Monday as a couple of analysts started coverage of the human resources software provider with a "Buy" rating, saying it is likely to capitalize during a time of big changes in the health care sector.

Benefitfocus Inc., based in Charleston, S.C., went public in September. The company provides a cloud-based platform for employee benefits management.

Jefferies' Ross MacMillan said in a client note that Benefitfocus' software makes things easier, automating the process of enrolling and managing employee healthcare, retirement, and insurance benefits. The company also has ample room to grow in the market, as 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 explained.

MacMillan also thinks Benefitfocus has a competitive advantage, as its customers include large insurers like Aetna and Allstate.

Nandan Amladi of Deutsche Bank said that Benefitfocus currently has a $5 billion market opportunity that is projected to triple to $15 billion by 2020. The analyst 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.

Shares of Benefitfocus gained $2.07, or 4.9 percent, to $43.93 in morning trading while the broader markets ticked lower. The stock went public at $26.50 per share.