Wall Street has assumed that Anthem is likely to lose the antitrust case, a securities analyst says. (Photo: Allison Bell/LHP

(Bloomberg) — A Justice Department lawyer told the judge in the antitrust case over Anthem’s $48 billion takeover of Cigna Corp. that the government was willing to hear settlement offers from the companies.

Cigna’s shares rose 4.3 percent to $132.10 and Anthem, which is based in Indianapolis, was up 1.8 percent to $130.45 at 12:05 p.m. in New York.

Related: Anthem, Aetna vie for quick trials in antitrust challenges

“We’re always willing to hear any proposals the defendants have,” Jon Jacobs, a lawyer for the Justice Department, said at a hearing on Friday in Washington. It’s common for the government to express a willingness to entertain settlement offers, but Jacobs’s remarks are no guarantee that an agreement can be reached.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington said that the trial would probably begin in mid-to late November. She also said that she couldn’t rule on the case before the end of the year.

The companies have until April 30 to complete the deal. A lawyer for Cigna, which is based in Bloomfield, Connecticut, told the judge that he “can’t say” whether Cigna would terminate the merger if it doesn’t close by then but that the health insurer is committed to defending the combination in court.

‘A Surprise’

In a note to investors, analyst Ana Gupte of Leerink Partners said of the Justice Department’s offer to hear settlement proposals, “This is clearly a surprise.” Gupte added that Leerink, and probably the rest of Wall Street, have viewed the probability of a successful trial or settlement at 25 percent or lower.

“Of course the DOJ is going to always be willing to engage in discussions,” said Jennifer Rie, an antitrust analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “I still think it’s hard to understand what the fix would be for all the issues that were raised by the Anthem-Cigna deal.”

The Justice Department’s antitrust division sued last month to block the Anthem-Cigna tie-up and the separate $37 billion merger of Aetna and Humana, contending the combinations, which would reduce the number of national health insurers from five to three, would harm competition and undermine choice for consumers. The Aetna case is scheduled to go to trial starting on Dec. 5.

—With assistance from Zachary Tracer.

Related:

U.S. opposes Anthem push for a quick trial in Cigna merger case

Anthem-Cigna and Aetna-Humana breakup provisions, dissected

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