UPDATE 4-Abbott sales jump, but Humira sales weigh on stock

* Q4 EPS ex-items $1.18; Street view $1.17

* Sales rise almost 11 pct to $8.79 billion

* Shares off 1.5 pct, weak Humira sales weigh

* Company forecasts 2010 Humira growth in 20 pct range
(Adds analyst comments, updates shares)

By Ransdell Pierson

NEW YORK, Jan 27 (BestGrowthStock) – Abbott Laboratories (ABT.N: )
reported stronger-than-expected fourth-quarter results, helped
by lower taxes and reduced expenses, but weak U.S. sales of its
Humira arthritis drug spooked some investors.

Abbott shares fell 1.5 percent in afternoon trading.

Morningstar analyst Damien Conover cited investor concern
that U.S. sales of Humira, the company’s flagship product, rose
only 3 percent during the quarter.

“I don’t think people’s concerns are well founded,” said
Conover, who added that big U.S. purchases of the drug by
wholesalers in the year-earlier period created an unfavorable
comparison.

Conover noted that U.S. Humira sales rose only 1 percent in
the first quarter of 2009 but rebounded sharply in subsequent
periods. Overseas sales in the fourth quarter rose 41 percent,
excluding foreign exchange factors, much higher than expected,
he said.

“People may be a little concerned that Humira sales will
slow and that the drug will become an albatross for Abbott,
keeping down earnings growth, but I disagree,” Conover said.

Abbott expects global Humira sales to grow about 20 percent
this year, and “oddball” large purchases of the drug a year ago
put fourth quarter sales in a bad light, company officials told
investors on a conference call.

The company said it expects 2010 earnings of $4.20 to $4.25
per share, and noted the midpoint of the range reflects growth
of about 13.5 percent. The forecast includes an expected
10-cent per share contribution from the acquisition in coming
weeks of Solvay SA’s (SOLB.BR: ) pharmaceuticals unit.

Credit Suisse analyst Catherine Arnold said the forecast
was disappointing because Wall Street expected a profit of
$4.17 per share excluding the Solvay deal. “So with 10 cents of
accretion (from Solvay), we think the market was looking for
$4.27,” she said in a research note.

In the fourth quarter, special charges offset strong sales
of Abbott’s medical devices, drugs and nutritional products.

The company reported a profit of $1.54 billion, or 98 cents
per share, unchanged from a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items, it earned $1.18 per share.
Analysts on average expected $1.17, according to Thomson
Reuters I/B/E/S.

Global sales rose almost 11 percent to $8.79 billion, or
about $200 million higher than Wall Street forecasts. Revenue
would have risen 8.2 percent if not for a weaker dollar, which
raises the value of sales in overseas markets.

“We’ve given investors a very strong forecast … on top of
a double-digit performance in the prior year,” Chief Executive
Miles White said on the investor conference call. The company’s
net earnings jumped 17.7 percent in 2009.

Fourth-quarter sales of prescription drugs rose 5.2 percent
to $4.85 billion. Global Humira sales rose 23 percent to $1.66
billion, making it by far the company’s biggest product. Sales
of Niaspan, a treatment to raise “good” HDL cholesterol, jumped
15 percent to $254 million, helped by a recent study in which
the drug reduced clogging in neck arteries better than Merck &
Co’s (MRK.N: ) Zetia.

Global sales of nutritional products rose 8.8 percent to
$1.43 billion, while revenue from medical diagnostics rose 8.8
percent to $975 million.

Sales of vascular products, including the company’s
top-selling Xience stent to prop open heart arteries that have
been cleared of plaque, rose 9.1 percent to $723 million.

Abbott shares were down 84 cents to $53.64 on the New York
Stock Exchange.

Stock Analysis

(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; editing by John Wallace,
Robert MacMillan and Steve Orlofsky)

UPDATE 4-Abbott sales jump, but Humira sales weigh on stock