By most measures, AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) performed well in the fourth quarter of 2014. Earnings handily beat expectations. Revenue increased in line with consensus forecasts. And yet shares dropped over 4% on Friday after the company released its financial results.
What happened? During AbbVie's earnings call, the company provided projections for hepatitis C drug Viekira Pak that disappointed analysts. This underscores how the message from a company's management team about the future usually outweighs numbers from the prior quarter. In case you missed it, here are the key things from AbbVie's call that management wants investors to know. (Quotes courtesy of Thomson Reuters StreetEvents.)
1. Under-promised and over-delivered
Chairman and CEO Rick Gonzalez spoke only a few seconds before noting that sales and earnings topped the company's projections for the year. Gonzalez pointed out that when AbbVie was first spun off from Abbott Labs two years ago a key priority was to "return to strong growth in 2015". He added that the company was "able to achieve that goal a year ahead of schedule".
You can't blame AbbVie's management for bragging just a little bit about 2014. They hewed closely to the old mantra that you should under-promise and over-deliver. Despite a pullback in share prices over the last couple of months, investors have still benefited from the company's beating expectations. AbbVie's stock is up 22% over the last 12 months.
2. Humira still has plenty of juice
The solid results from 2014 came largely on the back of AbbVie's star performer, Humira. The drug saw operational growth of nearly 19% year-over-year. Rick Gonzalez highlighted just how successful Humira has been by noting that it "has averaged well over $1 billion of growth per year for the past eight years".
Management doesn't see any signs that Humira is losing much steam. Gonzalez stated that they expect Humira will experience operational growth in the mid-teens for 2015. AbbVie anticipates decisions in the U.S. and Europe for use of Humira in treating chronic skin disease hidradenitis suppurativa. Management thinks the market for this indication could approach $1 billion annually. However, it's worth keeping in mind that the drug is set to lose patent protection in the U.S. by December 2016.
3. Viekira Pak is on track
Gonzalez said that the company is "pleased with our progress" when it comes to hepatitis C drug Viekira Pak. AbbVie estimates that over 40% of Americans will have access to Viekira Pak. More than 20% of those stem from exclusive contracts, most importantly from the deal that AbbVie struck with Express Scripts, the nation's largest pharmacy benefits manager.
AbbVie projects global annual sales for Viekira Pak will top $3 billion in 2015. The company's vagueness disconcerted some analysts, who were expecting sales of $3.11 billion. To be fair, though, Rick Gonzalez stated that the company would provide "more specific guidance... as the year unfolds". His reminder that AbbVie is "early in our launch" for Viekira and that "there are numerous factors at play" should be kept in mind when assessing the $3 billion figure.
4. The pipeline is percolating
Management didn't spend a lot of time talking about AbbVie's pipeline but did emphasize several key products in development. Cancer drug ABT-199 was one mentioned. AbbVie expects to submit the drug for regulatory approval as a treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia later this year.
Daclizumab, also known as Zinbryta, stands out as perhaps the most exciting prospect in AbbVie's pipeline right now. The drug, which is being developed by AbbVie and Biogen Idec, targets treatment of patients with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. AbbVie and Biogen should submit for regulatory approval of daclizumab in the first half of 2015.
5. 2015 looks solid
AbbVie confirmed its previous 2015 earnings guidance of $4.25 to $4.45 per share. Analysts expect at or above the top end of that range.
One question mark for AbbVie relates to currency fluctuations. CFO Bill Chase acknowledged that currency rates could impact sales. However, he also stated that AbbVie is comfortable with its earnings guidance despite the risk of foreign exchange rate fluctuation.
Shareholders can take heart especially from one comment from CEO Rick Gonzalez. He noted that AbbVie "generates significant cash flow which we expect will grow in 2015". Gonzalez said that the company plans to return much of that cash to shareholders primarily through increasing dividends. AbbVie bumped its quarterly dividend payment up by 17% beginning in February 2015.
Keith Speights owns shares of Express Scripts but doesn't own AbbVie despite a bullish view on the stock. As luck would have it, AbbVie has outperformed Express Scripts over the last year. C'est la vie -- and ce'st l'AbbVie, too. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Express Scripts. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.