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Now that Universal Health Services (UHS) has emerged as the nation's third-largest hospital-management company--as a result of consolidation in the industry--CEO Alan Miller worries that it might draw attention he doesn't welcome just yet: from suitors. He admits he has gotten some inquiries, and he expects more.

Miller thinks the best defense against suitors is a steadily rising stock price. And shares of Universal Health, which owns and operates 36 acute-care hospitals and psychiatric-care facilities, have been climbing. Trading at 20 a share in mid-January, the stock has now risen to about 30. Earnings are on the rise as well, up from $1.28 a share last year to analysts' estimates of $1.65 this year and $1.90 in 1997.

Money manager Bart Epker, managing partner at PAR Capital Management, which owns about 212,000 shares, says earnings are just a part of the reason he likes Universal Health. Miller's skill, he says, is in being able to manage the hospitals he acquires very efficiently. "We like the stock because Miller runs Universal like a private company," he says.By GENE G. MARCIAL

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