St. Jude Medical Inc. is giving upbeat sales predictions for 2015, but the heart-device maker will have to battle against a strong dollar to meet its targets.
Despite flat sales in its core business of devices to treat heart failure, St. Jude executives said they still expect total revenue to grow 3 to 5 percent this year, driven by sales of remote-monitoring machines and devices to treat fluttering heartbeats.
In 2014, the Little Canada company booked a $1 billion profit on sales of $5.6 billion, according to full-year financial results reported Wednesday. But in 2015, St. Jude is predicting that it will lose at least $325 million in sales to currency fluctuations. That's because the dollar has grown more valuable compared with international currencies, so foreign sales itranslate into fewer dollars at home. Last quarter, just over half of St. Jude's sales occurred outside the U.S.
In response to investor demand, the company said it will sign currency-hedging contracts in 2015 to smooth out temporary fluctuations in values.
"We have not jumped on the bandwagon of hedging so far," Dan Starks, chairman and CEO, told analysts in a conference call Wednesday. But "in this environment, we are realistic that a meaningful portion of our investor base would like to hedge."
Investors would also like to see stronger sales of the company's marquee heart devices, particularly advanced implantable resynchronization defibrillators that use electric shocks on both sides of the heart to restore normal a heart beat.
Analysts with Sterne Agee said a continuing slowdown in cardiac resynchronization defibrillators was the "elephant in the room" in St. Jude's earnings forecast Wednesday. In a note to investors, analysts predicted a competing Medtronic product approved for U.S. sales last September would steal St. Jude market share and depress revenue in that core business.
But Starks predicted that any impact on sales of synchronization defibrillators was unlikely to be permanent, as customers try competitors' products and decide they prefer St. Jude's offerings.
Overall sales in St. Jude's cardiac rhythm management (CRM) business were down 3 percent in the fourth quarter, and flat for the year as a whole, compared with the prior periods. Sales of standard implantable defibrillators and pacemakers in 2014 were flat compared with a year ago. The overall CRM business generated $2.8 billion in revenue in 2014.
In 2015, company officials have high hopes for their pain-management business, which has been hamstrung since the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter in 2009 over concerns about manufacturing processes at the company's plant in Plano, Texas. The FDA's concerns were finally resolved in August.
These neuromodulation products, which lessen the sensation of pain by sending electric pulses through the body's nervous system, are seen as major catalyst for sales growth next year.
Analysts cheered sales prospects for two product areas in 2015: products to treat the fluttering heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation (AF), and a device that helps to remotely monitor heart-failure patients' vital statistics known as CardioMems.
AF sales grew 12 percent to $283 million in the fourth quarter 2014. This week the company got approval from the FDA to sell a new AF device called FlexAbility, and last fall the company was approved to sell another AF device called TactiCath. "We believe St. Jude should be able to gain some market share with these new products" in 2015, analysts with BTIG Research wrote in a note to investors.
Sales of CardioMems devices are expected to hit $70 million in 2015, after posting revenue of $12 million this year. The company acquired the maker of the heart-failure monitoring system last June.
St. Jude on Wednesday reported earnings of $245 million, or 84 cents per share, on revenue of $1.44 billion. Its adjusted earnings per share of $1.03 met expectations.
For the year, the company reported profit of $1 billion, or $3.46 per share. Revenue was reported as $5.62 billion.
Looking ahead, St. Jude expects to report adjusted net earnings of 90 to 92 cents per share in the first quarter of 2015. For the full year, St. Jude reported an earnings forecast of $3.95 to $4 per share.