Investors can be fickle when it comes to AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV). The big pharma company reported great Q2 results in July, but AbbVie's share price dropped anyway. You might think the company would have to really hit the ball out of the park with its third-quarter results to cause its stock to rise.

AbbVie pretty much did hit the ball out of the park with its Q3 earnings that were announced before the market opened on Friday. And its stock did rise in early trading. What made the difference this time around? Here are three things you need to know from AbbVie's Q3 update.

Two scientists looking at monitor

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Strong revenue growth -- but Humira wasn't the star

AbbVie's Q3 revenue jumped 17.8% year over year to $8.24 billion. Adjusting for the negative impact of foreign exchange, the company's top-line performance looked even better, increasing 18.5% from the prior-year period.

In nearly every quarter since AbbVie was spun off from Abbott Labs, Humira was the main story. That makes sense considering that Humira has been and still is the world's best-selling drug. Humira was certainly key to AbbVie's third-quarter success with sales growing 9% year over year to $5.1 billion. But it wasn't the star performer this quarter.

That honor belonged to AbbVie's hematology franchise. Sales for Imbruvica soared 41% above the prior-year period to $972 million. Venclexta was included in AbbVie's revenue details for the first time, with solid sales of $96 million. AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez said that the company was "particularly pleased" with the franchise's progress, adding that it's "now delivering revenue in excess of $1 billion per quarter and is poised for continued strong growth next year and beyond."

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) drug Mavyret is still performing well. AbbVie reported that the drug generated sales of $839 million in Q3. However, momentum for the company's HCV franchise (which also includes Viekira) appears to be slowing. 

2. Uncle Sam helped a lot with the sizzling earnings growth

If you liked AbbVie's revenue numbers, you'll love its earnings results. The drugmaker reported Q3 earnings of $2.75 billion, or $1.81 per diluted share. AbbVie announced adjusted diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $2.14. This reflected a whopping 51.8% increase over the adjusted EPS from the prior-year period. It also easily topped the consensus Wall Street estimate of $2.02.

AbbVie's revenue growth definitely was key in boosting its earnings in the third quarter. But other factors were also important.

The company's net other expenses not associated with operational costs decreased by $244 million from the prior-year period, accounting for over one-fifth of AbbVie's GAAP earnings increase. AbbVie's adjusted EPS improvement was also helped by share buybacks, which lowered the company's weighted-average diluted shares outstanding by 5.5% year over year.

Uncle Sam provided the greatest assistance in making AbbVie's earnings growth outshine its top-line growth. Income tax expense in Q3 fell $450 million from the prior-year period. This lower tax expense accounted for 40% of AbbVie's GAAP earnings year-over-year increase.

3. The year is looking better and better

Thanks to its better-than-expected Q3 performance, AbbVie once again raised its full-year 2018 guidance. The company now expects 2018 adjusted EPS between $7.90 and $7.92, up from its previous outlook of $7.76 to $7.86. The midpoint of this revised guidance range reflects year-over-year growth of 41.3%.

And to add icing to the cake, AbbVie announced that it was increasing its dividend by 11.5%. Since 2013, the company has increased its quarterly dividend by 168%. AbbVie's dividend yield prior to this hike stood at 4.8%.  

What's next for AbbVie?

Things will now get tougher for Humira. AbbVie's agreement with Amgen signed last year paved the way for the rival's biosimilar to Humira to launch in Europe in October 2018. AbbVie slashed its prices for Humira. The combination of these price cuts and some market share erosion will no doubt take a toll on international sales for the company's top drug.

However, the outlook for Imbruvica and Venclexta appears to be really good. Imbruvica recently picked up approval for another indication -- Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia (WM), a rare type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). AbbVie awaits approval for a combination of Imbruvica and Roche's Gazyva in treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia or small lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL/SLL). Venclexta also gained approvals recently for new indications in the U.S. and Europe with more potentially on the way.

Expect AbbVie's launch of endometriosis pain drug Orilissa to begin bearing fruit over the next few quarters. And Humira could soon be joined by AbbVie's next generation of autoimmune drugs. Risankizumab currently awaits U.S. and European approval in treating psoriasis. AbbVie also expects to submit for regulatory approval for upadacitinib in treating rheumatoid arthritis in the near future.

Investors might continue to be fickle about AbbVie, though. Many still aren't convinced the company will move out from beneath the shadow of looming U.S. competition for Humira a few years from now. However, AbbVie is doing exactly what it said it would do by building other strong franchises to fuel growth. The Q3 results underscore AbbVie's progress in delivering on its goal.

Keith Speights owns shares of AbbVie. The Motley Fool recommends Amgen. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.