Shares of AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) soared 21% in 2020, the stock's best performance since 2017. The big pharma hasn't gotten off to a great start so far in 2021, though, with shares down year to date. 

The beginning of a bounce could be underway now, however, for the Dividend Aristocrat. AbbVie announced positive fourth-quarter results before the market opened on Wednesday. Here are the highlights from the company's update.

Female scientist holding pill in gloved hand.

Image Source: Getty Images.

By the numbers

AbbVie announced revenue of $13.9 billion in the fourth quarter, a 59% year-over-year jump. This result also topped the average analyst revenue estimate of $13.7 billion.

The company reported net income in the fourth quarter of $36 million, or $0.01 per share, based on generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). This was a steep decline from AbbVie's GAAP earnings of $2.8 billion, or $1.88 per share, in the prior-year period.

But it was a different story with AbbVie's adjusted bottom line. The drugmaker posted adjusted earnings of $2.92 share, up from $2.21 per share in the same period in 2019. This result easily beat the Wall Street consensus for adjusted earnings of $2.85.

Behind the numbers

Humira remained AbbVie's top-selling product in the fourth quarter. Total sales for the autoimmune-disease drug rose 4.8% year over year to $5.1 billion. Although international sales for Humira fell 9.4%, the decline was more than offset by 8.2% growth in the U.S., which is a bigger market for the drug.

AbbVie's successors to Humira turned in strong performances in the fourth quarter. Sales for Rinvoq and Skyrizi totaled $281 million and $525 million, respectively. Both autoimmune-disease drugs won their first regulatory approvals in 2019.

Momentum for the company's blood cancer franchise also carried over into the fourth quarter. Sales for Imbruvica jumped 9.8% year over year to $1.4 billion. Sales for Venclexta skyrocketed 46.2% to $365 million. 

Some products picked up by AbbVie with its acquisition of Allergan also contributed to overall growth. Botox cosmetic sales rose more than 9% year over year to $493 million. Sales for antipsychotic drug Vraylar soared 38% to $401 million.

Looking ahead

AbbVie anticipates GAAP earnings per share for the full-year 2021 between $6.69 and $6.89. It expects adjusted EPS between $12.32 and $12.52. This forecast reflects solid growth compared to 2020.

The company also provided longer-term sales guidance. It looks for strong overall sales growth through 2023, when Humira loses exclusivity in the U.S. It anticipates that total sales will decline in 2023, followed by modest overall revenue growth in 2025. For the rest of the decade, though, the drugmaker projects a high-single-digit compound annual growth rate. 

This outlook should be encouraging for investors, especially those who count on AbbVie's dividend. That juicy payout looks safe for a long time to come.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.