Swift sales of medical devices helped propel quarterly revenue and earnings at Abbott Laboratories above expectations, even as revenue from devices with Minnesota roots like pacemakers and neurostimulators lagged.
Companywide, Abbott's adjusted earnings of $1.1 billion grew 7% organically on first-quarter revenue of $7.5 billion. Both the top-line revenue figure and the underlying adjusted earnings of 63 cents per share beat stock analysts' estimates by 2 cents.
Abbott's medical device division, which absorbed Minnesota's St. Jude Medical in a 2017 corporate acquisition, recorded an organic growth rate of 9.5% on $2.9 billion in revenue, making it the largest and fastest-growing division at the Chicago-based company. Strong growth in sales of products for diabetes, electrophysiology, heart failure and structural heart repairs made up for declines seen in heart-rhythm, neuromodulation and vascular devices.
"You know, there's a geography here or there or a product line here and there that we might not be completely satisfied with. But I think if you look at us, our product areas, even competitors in various spaces in medical devices, this whole sector is doing pretty well," Abbott CEO Miles White told investors in an earnings call Wednesday. "While we've got great pipelines and great products, I think the entire sector has a bright future ahead of it here."
Despite the earnings and revenue beats, investors sent Abbott shares down more than 4.5% Wednesday, to close at $72.88. The broader market was also down, with the S&P Health Care Equipment Index down more than 4%.
Stock analysts pressed White for details Wednesday on why the company wasn't looking harder at strategic acquisitions and why it didn't increase Abbott's financial outlook for the rest of the year.
White pushed back, saying Abbott isn't seeing any compelling acquisition targets at the moment and prefers to focus on improving the operations it already has; and the company didn't raise its earnings following first-quarter results because traditionally Abbott executives wait for more clarity on the rest of the year before raising outlooks.
"I'd say the reason that we didn't look at raising in the first quarter is because I just don't raise in the first quarter," White said. "While some analysts have speculated that med-tech or med devices is somehow slowing, I tell you, I don't see that."
Abbott kept its full-year earnings outlook unchanged, with adjusted diluted EPS in a range between $3.15 and $3.25.
Regarding the company's key MitraClip device, which is expected to surpass $1 billion in annual sales in coming years, Abbott President and Chief Operating Officer Robert Ford said it will take up to nine months to secure a new Medicare reimbursement code that specifically covers the use of the MitraClip for secondary mitral regurgitation. It could also take a few years to reach the goal of 550 hospitals in the U.S. qualified to implant the device, up from about 350 today.
"Those are some of the key blocks, but I'd say we know how to do this," Ford said. "We're not going to wait for final CMS approval before we start hiring."
Used to repair a leaky mitral valve rather than replacing it with an artificial valve, the MitraClip is part of Abbott's structural heart business, which had quarterly organic revenue growth of 15%, to $324 million.
Abbott's portfolio of products to treat pain with electrical pulses, known as neuromodulation, declined by an organic 7% in the quarter to $193 million in sales.
White admitted to investors that he overestimated how quickly the neuromodulation business could return double-digit percentage growth, but he remains confident it will happen. Although the sales force is being expanded by 40% to 50%, that process has been more "disruptive" than expected.
Ford said sales of cardiac-rhythm devices like pacemakers and implantable defibrillators were disappointing in the quarter, especially in the U.S., where $233 million in sales represented an organic decline of 12%. Overall, worldwide sales of $490 million fell by 5%.
Ford said the sales team for cardiac-rhythm devices has been refocused into more of a "stand-alone vertical" business unit that should boost sales and accountability, and that future products like a next-generation defibrillator and two leadless heart devices will benefit from the new focus as well.
Analysts with Leerink Partners said the overall performance at Abbott reflected "another solid quarter" and the 2019 guidance targets look achievable. But "we're less certain of the sources of upside, which we think are critical for stocks to work in this increasingly volatile market environment."