Community Health Systems Inc.'s stock plunged 28% in active morning trade Monday, putting it on course to close at a six-year low, after the hospital operator swung to a surprise fourth-quarter loss on revenue that fell well short of expectations. Volume just 15 minutes after the opening bell was about 4.5 million shares, already above the full-day average of about 3.8 million shares, according to FactSet. The company reported before the open a fourth-quarter loss of $74 million, or 66 cents a share, compared with a profit of $129 million, or $1.12 a share, in the same period a year ago. Excluding non-recurring items, such as expenses related to a legal settlement and to the planned spinoff of Quorum Health, the per-share loss was 28 cents, compared with the FactSet consensus for a profit of 95 cents a share. Revenue fell 2.4% to $4.8 billion, compared with the FactSet consensus for a 1.3% increase to $4.98 billion. Chief Executive Wayne Smith said the quarter was negatively affected by volume weakness and higher emergency room visits and admissions attributed to respiratory illness and the flu. An increase in allowances for doubtful accounts also hurt results, Smith said. The stock has plunged 49% year to date, while the S&P 500 has slipped 7.7%.
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