Technically, Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT ) has been around for decades. But the new Abbott Laboratories stock -- the one that no longer contains the drug division spun off as AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV ) -- has existed for only six months.
Seems like a good time for a checkup.
After sending the drugs, including the world's best-selling drug, Humira, to AbbVie, Abbott is left with four divisions:
- Nutrition -- probably a low-margin business. How much can you mark up baby formula and muscle powder?
- Diagnostics -- interesting, especially with the development of personalized medicine, but it's the smallest of the four globally, and very little of the sales come from the U.S., where it could probably get higher prices.
- Established pharmaceuticals -- using a euphemism for generic drugs sold overseas, doesn't make them any more interesting.
- Medical devices -- it's a tough business. U.S. sales were down nearly 13% year over year in the first quarter.
The reason Abbott split off AbbVie was clear: Independently, Abbott Laboratories stock and AbbVie stock were supposed to grow faster than the combined company.
That might actually turn out to be true, but Abbott got the unsexy slow-growth side of the stock. Since the split, Abbott Laboratories stock has matched the S&P 500, while AbbVie has doubled the index's return.
It seems investors are just uninterested in owning Abbott Laboratories stock. I know I am.
Turning things around
The most interesting division is Abbott's diagnostic business. The company sells devices that can run different diagnostic tests. Abbott doesn't break out margins, but it seems safe to assume it's making more on the tests than it is on the machines, which has proved to be a successful business model. Investors should keep an eye on the ever-increasing options for tests that Abbott is developing. It recently gained FDA approval for a test to genotype hepatitis C infections, for instance.
The medical-device business is key to the operation of Abbott Laboratories. Sales of its drug-eluting stents and related products business were down 15% in the U.S. as the company not only competes against Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX ) and Medtronic (NYSE: MDT ) , but also against other options that patients have to treat coronary arteries, including doing nothing. Sales of drug-eluting stents at all three medical-device makers have dropped recently as doctors perform fewer procedures. The winner appears to be Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ ) , which exited the drug-eluting stent business altogether two years ago.
Growth in the other two divisions -- nutrition and established pharmaceuticals -- will help boost the revenue line, but don't be surprised to see the growth not translate to the bottom line, since they're probably the lower-margin businesses. To get things turned around, the diagnostics and medical-device businesses have to be firing on all cylinders.
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