Abbott results bode well for spun-off AbbVie

AbbVie Inc , the new branded pharmaceuticals company spun off by Abbott Laboratories Inc , is off to a good start, judging by fourth-quarter sales of arthritis drug Humira and other products in its medicine chest.

The picture, although healthy, could be more challenging for the remaining Abbott, nicknamed "new Abbott," which continues to sell medical devices, diagnostics, nutritional products and generic drugs, said analysts.

The new Abbott said it expects earnings for 2013, excluding special items, of $1.98 to $2.04 per share, in line with its earlier guidance and above the average Wall Street forecast of $1.95.

The company has not yet provided complete earnings data for full-year 2012, making it difficult for investors to estimate how much earnings could grow in 2013. The company is still analyzing the numbers because of the split and may eventually restate some figures, analysts said.

Leerink Swann analyst Danielle Antalffy said comments by company executives during an investor conference call suggest Abbott sales may grow in the mid-single-digit percentage range this year, and that earnings would grow in the high-single-digit range.

But a big worry, Antalffy said, is whether Abbott can revive sales of its branded generic medicines, which the company calls established pharmaceuticals. Sales of the products slipped 4 percent in 2012 to $5.1 billion.

"The business, which represents 25 percent of company sales, has been underperforming," she said, adding that revenue forecasts for the business are difficult because they rely on data from so many local markets and countries.

Fourth-quarter sales of all products that remain with Abbott were $5.7 billion, roughly in line with analysts' forecasts. Although the company did not provide comparable sales figures for the fourth quarter of 2011, Antalffy estimated sales rose 4 to 5 percent in the most recent quarter.

Analysts said trends for AbbVie, based on more-detailed data for its products provided by Abbott on Wednesday, were easier to interpret.

Global sales of branded drugs that now belong to AbbVie rose 7.4 percent to $5.14 billion in the fourth quarter, topping the $4.8 billion estimate of Wells Fargo analyst Larry Biegelsen. The rise would have been 8.5 percent if not for the stronger dollar, which lowers the value of sales in overseas markets.

Sales of Humira, by far AbbVie's biggest product, jumped 23 percent to $2.68 billion, about $200 million above Biegelsen's estimate.

That represented a marked acceleration of sales growth from the prior two quarters and underscores how reliant AbbVie is on the injectable product, which is expected to become the world's top-selling medicine this year.

AbbVie, spun off by Abbott earlier this month, is expected to report its interpretation of the fourth-quarter results and its 2013 forecast on January 30.

Among top product lines still sold by Abbott, sales of nutritional brands jumped 10.2 percent to $1.71 billion in the fourth quarter, and sales of laboratory diagnostics grew 3.8 percent to $908 million. Sales of diabetes care products rose 3.1 percent to $362 million, reversing a 10 percent decline seen in the prior quarter.

Abbott shares were 0.3 percent lower in afternoon trading, while AbbVie shares rose 2.2 percent, both on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting By Ransdell Pierson; editing by John Wallace; editing by Carol Bishopric)