Boston Scientific Corp. over the past three months delivered on promises of strong sales in nearly every medical device it offers, leading to investor enthusiasm Wednesday for a company that has officially recorded one profitable year since 2009.
The Marlborough, Mass.-based firm, which employs several thousand workers in the Twin Cities, said it earned $273 million, or 20 cents a share, in the third quarter, adjusted for one-time gains and expenses. That was up nearly 19 percent and at the high end of the range of analysts' forecasts.
The figures included solid growth in all three of the company's business units, including one of its core products, implantable defibrillators. In particular, sales of a Boston Scientific defibrillator that implants leads in the skin rather than the heart grew quickly, boosting forecasted sales to $100 million this year.
Analysts, who have recently been weary of the company's mounting legal challenges, welcomed the blast of positive financial news Wednesday.
"It was one of their best quarters, if not the best quarter, in the past five years," S&P Capital IQ analyst Jeffrey Loo said. "Hopefully this Johnson & Johnson litigation doesn't throw a monkey wrench in the gears."
Johnson & Johnson, the world's largest health care company, is slated to square off against Boston Scientific in a massive bench trial set to begin Nov. 20. The case centers on Johnson & Johnson's allegation that in the mid-2000s, Twin Cities heart devicemaker Guidant leaked strategic details from a confidential business proposal, causing Johnson & Johnson to lose a bidding war to acquire it. Boston Scientific eventually bought Guidant for $25 billion in 2006, and Johnson & Johnson is now asking for $5 billion in damages.
In an interview, Boston Scientific CEO Mike Mahoney said he was confident that Johnson & Johnson would not be able to prove in court that Guidant willfully breached confidentiality. "We are comfortable with our legal positions," he said.
With other legal headaches mounting, Boston Scientific executives revealed that during the quarter they had added $139 million to their internal fund for legal costs, including potential judgments and settlements. The total legal fund now stands at $945 million.
Executives declined to say during a conference call with analysts how much of the legal fund is dedicated to litigation and potential settlement costs for 23,000 pending injury claims from women who say they were injured by Boston Scientific's transvaginal mesh slings to treat prolapse and incontinence. The company won its first two mesh trials, but a Texas jury last month awarded $73 million in actual and punitive damages for a single case, which is now on appeal.
Analysts said such litigation is relatively common for medical technology companies, even though Boston's legal fund now comprises nearly 6 percent of its entire $16 billion market capitalization. Mahoney said the litigation is already accounted for in the company's long-term financial planning, and he noted that it continues to sell the devices.
For investors, the most meaningful figures — revenue and earnings per share — both moved in the right direction during the July-to-September quarter.
Revenue was $1.85 billion, up 6 percent from the same quarter last year, and also above analysts' estimate of $1.82 billion. Executives said there was no reason to believe the fourth quarter would not become the company's seventh consecutive with revenue growth.
For the full year of 2014, the company projects adjusted earnings of at least 81 cents per share.
Yet Boston Scientific's net results have been muted because of one-time charges that have included write-downs on the value of its 2006 Guidant acquisition. Those costs account for why 2011 was the only year in the past five that Boston Scientific recorded a net profit.
"We are a very profitable company. We deliver 21 percent operating income margins. The challenge is, you are looking at GAAP accounting," Mahoney said, using the acronym for the accounting rules that include all charges.
Analysts credited Mahoney, who came to Boston Scientific in 2012, with helping turn the company around.
"The story has been one of a great turnaround," said Piper Jaffray analyst Brooks West. "What's nice to see from an investment perspective is that all three of the divisions are outperforming, they're showing top-line growth, and there is a pipeline that is spread across all of the divisions."
Mahoney reaffirmed $500 million as a conservative target for projected annual sales of a new left-atrial appendage closure device called Watchman.
An FDA advisory panel this month narrowly recommended the Food and Drug Administration approve Watchman following an unprecedented third hearing on its safety and efficacy. Although the device would be first on the market in the U.S., several potential competitors are speeding toward testing. The Watchman is seen as a second-line therapy for patients who are at high risk for stroke but can't take blood-thinner medications.
Last quarter, sales in Boston Scientific's biggest business unit, cardiovascular products, grew by 8 percent to $723 million in revenue, as compared with the same quarter in the prior year. Its rhythm-management unit grew by 7 percent to $534 million, and its medical-surgical unit grew by 4 percent to $588 million. Each of the seven business segments within those units posted net growth except neuromodulation, which was flat.
Joe Carlson • 612-673-4779