Health care mainstay Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT) sure hasn't had a quiet 2012. Between the patent cliff, the fiscal cliff, and more, it's been an eventful year for the medical sector as a whole. Abbott's year, however, has been dominated by one singular event: The impending spin-off of its pharmaceutical division into a new separate company, AbbVie, come January.
While investors have debated the pros and cons of the company's major transformation, Abbott's stock has quietly churned out a stellar year. Shares of the health care giant have picked up more than 14% year-to-date. What's Abbott done to keep shareholders happy while in the midst of this major change -- and what should the year tell you about the company's future?
All things AbbVie
The beginnings of Abbott's pharmaceutical spinoff date back to last year, but we've been able to watch the AbbVie drama play out all through 2012.
The spinoff has revolved around rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira, Abbott's blockbuster cash cow that faces patent expiration starting in 2016. The sheer power of Humira's sales in comparison to the rest of Abbott's pharmaceutical portfolio -- the drug recorded sales of around $8 billion, compared to AbbVie's projected annual sales of $18.6 billion -- concerned Abbott with its patent expiration drawing closer. Humira's also facing competition from new rheumatoid arthritis drug candidates produced by the likes of Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and others.
Additionally, the company's leadership has expressed its confidence that Abbott and AbbVie can produce more shareholder value as separate entities than as one massive mega health care stalwart in the vein of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). Abbott shareholders might miss the revenue power of Abbott's largest division, but sales growth has slowed considerably this year for its proprietary pharmaceuticals. While Humira has managed to post significant domestic sales growth of 26% through the first nine months of 2012, Abbott's other drugs aren't performing so strongly this year.
Only one other drug, Abbott's third-largest seller AndroGel, has managed to record double-digit U.S. sales growth through nine months. Four products have recorded sales declines. The pharmaceutical pipeline hasn't been great, either: Safety concerns halted a phase III trial of Abbott's bardoxolone in October, a diabetes drug that some analysts believed could have become a blockbuster. Even international woes have risen up to bite Abbott's branded drug sales in 2012, recording growth of merely 2% so far after gaining 17% through the first nine months of 2011.
The push for generic sales
Solving Humira's future and will be AbbVie's biggest task, but Abbott investors will need to focus on the company's other divisions that will make up its portfolio going forward. Generic pharmaceuticals haven't had the best 2012: Sales have fallen 5% through the first nine months of the year. Much of that decline can be attributed to exchange rate fluctuations and pricing problems in Europe, but even with those issues accounted for, generics only recorded sales growth of 2.7% overall.
As generics make up the second-largest division by sales of Abbott's future businesses, investors have to hope the company has a plan to improve this segment's performance in the future. Emerging markets could help to provide a solution -- despite international sales falling through the first nine months of the year, due in part to a strong dollar, Abbott's managed to establish a significant international presence in recent years.
Businesses of the future
Generics aren't Abbott's entire future portfolio, however, and the company has had plenty of success outside drugs in 2012. Abbott's nutritional business is its largest division by sales out of those it will keep after the split. It's thus reassuring that nutrition has posted the highest sales growth out of any branch this year, with revenue up 6.9% through the first nine months of the year. Pediatric nutritional sales in particular have been a bright spot for Abbott's 2012; sales of those products have jumped 16% for the year through nine months.
Abbott's other two business segments, diagnostics and vascular products, have been a mixed bag -- the former seeing sales grow while the latter has seen sales decline. The company's managed to make waves in the vascular arena however, preparing to compete against medical device companies more in the future by developing products such as bioabsorbable stents. Abbott's taken an early lead in the future of the stent market, giving it an important advantage over rivals such as Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX) and Medtronic (NYSE:MDT).
Solid returns despite a cloudy future
The AbbVie saga has consumed investor attention on Abbott for 2012, but the company's shown to be much more than a pharmaceutical company. Although investors may miss Humira's steady sales in the years coming forward, particularly with the drug's strong growth this year, Abbott's surge in nutritional sales this year look promising for the future. Its moves to better establish its vascular line, as well as continuing to pursue international sales, have helped fuel its stock's double-digit gains. The future's uncertain for Abbott, but one thing's for sure: Investors can't be unhappy with this stock's solid returns in 2012.