Boston Scientific Corp. is gearing up to cut some big checks this year as the medical device maker works to resolve the last of its major legal headaches.
In the context of an upbeat earnings report Wednesday, company executives told investors that they plan to pay $800 million to resolve tens of thousands of patient lawsuits involving pelvic mesh products used in women, and another $600 million to resolve 10 years' worth of disputes over back taxes with the Internal Revenue Service. Both payments are expected later this year.
"This $800 million estimated payment for mesh settlements, combined with our expected $600 million payment as a result of finalizing our disputes with the Internal Revenue Service, requires approximately $1.4 billion of cash flow for the year to settle our remaining significant existing contingencies," Chief Financial Officer Dan Brennan said in a conference call with stock analysts Wednesday.
Three years ago, Boston Scientific paid competitor Johnson & Johnson $600 million to resolve a lawsuit over Boston's 2005 acquisition of rival Guidant, removing one of the three major liability risks that had some investors jittery. But resolving the pelvic mesh lawsuits, of which there are about 49,000 today, and the $1 billion outstanding tax bill from the IRS have proved challenging.
On Wednesday, Brennan announced that the company had reached conditional, final or "near final" settlements with 95 percent of the litigants, who are suing Boston Scientific because they say they were injured by the pieces of plastic mesh implanted inside them to treat stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. The company has defended its products and conduct, while also setting aside significant amounts of money to settle the lawsuits.
The $800 million that will be paid out this year represents only part of Boston Scientific's legal bill for mesh. Between 2015 and 2017, the company recorded litigation-related charges of nearly $2.2 billion, much of which was for mesh claims, securities filings say. As of March 31, the company's legal reserve fund stood at $1.5 billion, though liabilities are released from the balance sheet as payments are made from the settlement fund, Brennan noted Wednesday.
As for the IRS, Boston Scientific reached an agreement in 2016 to pay a settlement to resolve long-running disputes over taxes owed on products manufactured in other countries using intellectual property owned in the U.S. The IRS claimed the company owed more than $1 billion in back taxes, and Boston Scientific agreed to pay a smaller amount for a subset of the years from 2001 to 2010, but negotiations continued.
"Finalizing the IRS stipulation of settled issues for the 2001 to 2010 tax years remains on track, and we currently believe that it will be finalized during Q2, 2018," Brennan said. The company is expecting to make "net cash payments of approximately $600 million around midyear, and we will also adjust our balance sheet to reflect the final settlement in the quarter in which that occurs."
In the past, Boston Scientific has used its free cash flow funds to pay legal settlements, buy other companies, and invest in capital projects. The company is projecting adjusted free cash flow of about $1.9 billion in 2018.
Meanwhile, sales of slender surgical tools and urology devices helped propel Boston Scientific to strong revenue and income growth during the first quarter of the year, beating Wall Street consensus expectations. The manufacturer of surgical tools and heart devices also raised its earnings and revenue guidance for the remainder of 2018.
Boston Scientific Chief Executive Mike Mahoney told investors early Wednesday that the company was "excited about 2018 and our plans to build upon our global momentum and drive sustainable long-term growth and differentiated financial performance."
In the first quarter of 2018, the company reported adjusted diluted earnings of $455 million on $2.37 billion in revenue. Its revenue was up 5 percent on an organic basis after excluding for the impact of foreign currency fluctuations and acquisitions. Adjusted net income was up almost 15 percent, after removing the effects of items like amortization, acquisitions and restructuring. Earnings per share in the quarter were 33 cents, coming in a penny above consensus estimates.
"The key to us in the quarter is the broad-based strength across its businesses" analysts with Leerink Partners wrote Wednesday.
Shares closed the day up more than 3 percent, at $29.42. Based in Massachusetts, the company is a major Minnesota employer with thousands of workers in Maple Grove, Arden Hills and Plymouth.
Sales of peripheral intervention devices, which are thin devices used in blood vessels in the legs, grew by 6 percent organically to $288 million. Endoscopy products, which include thin scopes used by doctors inside the body, grew 6 percent to $418 million in sales. And urology and pelvic health product sales grew by 9 percent to $293 million.
The company's two largest product categories grew the slowest. Interventional cardiology products like drug-eluting stents grew by 1 percent to $645 million in sales, and heart-rhythm devices like implantable defibrillators grew by 2 percent to $493 million.
For 2018 as a whole, Boston Scientific announced updated revenue guidance of $9.75 billion to $9.9 billion, up from previous guidance of $9.65 billion to 9.8 billion. It now sees adjusted earnings of $1.37 to $1.41 per share for 2018, compared with its previous guidance of $1.35 to $1.39.