AbbVie shares slip after drugmaker issues 2015 earnings forecast deemed conservative

Markets Associated Press

The price of AbbVie shares dipped early Friday after the drugmaker delivered what some analysts saw as a conservative forecast for 2015 earnings growth.

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The maker of the recently launched hepatitis C treatment Viekira Pak said Thursday after markets closed that it expects a sharp jump in profit, due in part to its latest product. AbbVie forecast adjusted 2015 earnings ranging from $4.25 to $4.45 per share, excluding one-time items.

Average analyst expectations fall nearly in the middle of that range, at $4.34 per share, according to the data firm FactSet.

AbbVie Inc. launched Viekira Pak in December priced at about $83,000 for a course of treatment. A few days later, pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts Holding Co. said it would make Viekira Pak the preferred treatment for some of its patients who have the most common form of hepatitis C.

Competitor Gilead Sciences Inc. has already made billions off its hepatitis C treatment, Sovaldi, as the first in a new line of treatments that offer better cure rates with more manageable side effects for the virus, which hits more than 3 million Americans.

On Monday, CVS Health said Sovaldi and another Gilead drug, Harvoni, will become preferred treatments on several of its pharmacy benefits management plans.

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Jefferies analyst Jeffrey Holford said he expected Abbvie's initial earnings forecast to be conservative, and it should be increased throughout 2015. He said the mid-point of AbbVie's earnings forecast, $4.35 per share, implies $2.5 billion in Viekira Pak sales. He forecasts $4 billion, a mark that the analyst believes is still achievable.

Overall, Holford said in a research note that the company's initial forecast was very positive.

"We had expected AbbVie to issue conservative guidance given the highly unpredictable Viekira Pak sales for 2015, and are not surprised to see the mid-point estimate being below our own estimate of $5.15 (per share)," he wrote.

The North Chicago, Illinois, company's stock was down 47 cents to $67.16 Friday, less than an hour before markets opened. The stock climbed 24 percent last year, more than doubling the advance of the Standard & Poor's 500 index.