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This Stock Could Be a Surprise Growth Pick

By Adria Cimino - Feb 9, 2021 at 6:50AM

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This well-established company offers revenue growth many newer players would envy.

When we think of growth stocks, we often think of young companies that aren't necessarily profitable. They might be producing double-digit or triple-digit revenue gains -- but they're investing all of that back into their businesses. Now what if I told you there's an established healthcare company out there -- with revenue and profit growth in the double digits?

The safety of a player that's been around for a long time and the possibility of strong revenue gains -- and share price increases -- spell a good deal. This particular stock climbed 26% last year, and recently reported stellar quarterly and full-year earnings. I'm talking about healthcare giant Abbott Laboratories (ABT 3.05%). Let's take a closer look at this surprising growth pick.

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A portfolio mix that works

Diversification has helped Abbott build a growth-friendly product portfolio. The company includes four businesses: diagnostics, medical devices, nutrition, and pharmaceuticals. Abbott's annual net income has climbed for the past three years. And annual revenue has increased for the past eight years. Usually, the medical device business is the strongest area. For instance, in 2019, that business accounted for 38% of Abbott's full-year revenue.

Last year, however, the coronavirus pandemic led to fewer procedures in healthcare settings. Hospitals focused resources on COVID-19 patients. And that weighed on Abbott's medical device sales. But early in the crisis, Abbott already was thinking growth. The company began working on coronavirus diagnostics and since has emerged a leader in the field.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to eight of Abbott's COVID-19 tests. That includes the rapid, portable BinaxNOW in the U.S. Internationally, authorities have approved the similar Panbio diagnostic. Both are generating major revenue for Abbott.

In the fourth quarter ending Dec. 31, the BinaxNOW, Panbio, and Abbott's ID NOW rapid testing platforms brought in $1.9 billion in sales. All together, Abbott's coronavirus diagnostics generated $2.4 billion. Abbott has delivered more than 400 million coronavirus tests since the start of the pandemic -- and 300 million of those were shipped in the fourth quarter. The BinaxNOW and the Panbio launched in late summer, so we're just right now starting to see how their sales are translating into earnings.

A surge in testing

This surge in testing helped sales of Abbott's diagnostics business soar 111% in the fourth quarter and 40% for the year. All figures are year over year. Total fourth-quarter sales -- including all business segments -- climbed more than 28% to $10.7 billion. And earnings per share (EPS) for the quarter jumped more than 52% to $1.45. What's even better is the strength of Abbott's forecast for the year ahead. The company predicts EPS growth of more than 35% for 2021.

So how will all of this growth continue? When it comes to coronavirus diagnostics sales, there's likely a lot more to come. The U.S. ordered 150 million BinaxNOW tests -- and Abbott completed that order last month. It's now working on a second order for 30 million more tests by March. Newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden has made coronavirus testing one of his main goals. It's not hard to imagine the new administration's renewed focus on testing resulting in more orders in the future.

Even if the pandemic eases, it's clear that the need for testing will persist for some time. Testing is the primary way of monitoring the presence of the virus worldwide. And while Abbott's coronavirus testing had to compensate for flagging medical device sales this year, it probably won't have to do that again. Hospitals are resuming other procedures, and medical device sales are recovering. For instance, Abbott's medical device sales sank 21% in the quarter ended June 30. They rose 1.7% in the fourth quarter.

It's very likely that this year and into the future, Abbott will benefit from coronavirus diagnostic sales and medical device sales. So, the company's double-digit EPS goal for the year seems within reach. And I think that this means more gains are on the horizon for shares of this healthcare company, too.

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Abbott Laboratories
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