Medical device maker St. Jude Medical expects lower profits in 2016 than analysts had been expecting, as the company plans to retain more cash for other investments in the coming year.

The Little Canada-based medical device company told investors on Wednesday that sales will rise between 2 percent and 4 percent in 2016 on constant-currency basis, and profits will land between $3.95 and $4.05 per share. Analysts had been projecting earnings of $4.14 per share.

That would compare to 2015's adjusted net earnings of $3.94 per share on $1.13 billion in profit. Shares in St. Jude Medical rose early, but ended down 15 cents, at $54.30 during another tough day for the broader market.

Chief Financial Officer Don Zurbay said Wednesday that St. Jude is planning to make a number of investments in its higher-growth products to treat atrial fibrillation and heart failure, and its line of neuromodulation devices, which will offset potential earnings growth during the year.

"There is a certain amount of [earnings] leverage we want to achieve. But we are really trying to balance that with the continued investment in the growth drivers," Zurbay said in an interview. "We also wanted to make sure that we had guidance that is achievable and brings leverage and also brings investment. So it's kind of a balance."

Analysts with Leerink Partners in Boston said the earnings predictions for 2016 seemed "appropriately conservative," given that it's the first such guidance issued under Chief Executive Michael Rousseau, who became president and CEO on Jan. 1.

As previewed earlier this month, St. Jude Medical's sales of cardiac-rhythm devices like pacemakers and implantable defibrillators — which comprise the largest sales unit — declined to $580 million during the quarter that ended Jan. 2.

All told, the worldwide cardiac-rhythm device sales declined 10 percent from the same quarter last year, after correcting for negative currency impacts.

In the U.S., quarterly pacemaker sales declined 17 percent to $85 million.

The drop in U.S. sales of pacemakers began in the third quarter of 2015 and is expected to last through the first quarter of 2016, as St. Jude works toward a U.S. launch of a new pacemaker that is compatible with magnetic resonance imaging. St. Jude has lost market share to Medtronic and other competitors that sell an MRI-safe pacemaker domestically.

"MRI compatibility has become an important feature in the U.S.," Zurbay said. "Where we have the MRI-compatible products outside the U.S., we're competing very effectively. … But until we get those here in the U.S., we are going to continue to see this weakness, which we expect."

U.S. sales of implantable defibrillators also declined 16 percent to $209 million in the fourth quarter. Launch of a new MRI-safe defibrillator from St. Jude is not expected before first half of 2017.

"These product ebbs and flows in the CRM (cardiac-rhythm management) business are kind of a cost of doing business. It's the price of being in the game in CRM," Zurbay said. "There is this piece of [market] share that moves back and forth depending on where you are in your product cycle."

Sales in smaller divisions like atrial fibrillation and neuromodulation grew more quickly during the most recent quarter to make up the difference in heart-rhythm devices, pushing fourth-quarter top-line sales to $1.45 billion, which was 7 percent growth after adjusting the figures to remove the effects of $91 million in negative currency fluctuations.

St. Jude completed its $3.3 billion acquisition of advanced heart-device maker Thoratec during the quarter. Thoratec sales jumped 15 percent in the quarter on a constant currency basis to $143 million, following European approval for its HeartMate 3 left ventricular assist device a few days after the St. Jude deal closed.

Yet combined net sales for St. Jude Medical and Thoratec for the fourth quarter declined 1 percent during the quarter on a constant currency basis.

Joe Carlson • 612-673-4779

Twitter: @_JoeCarlson