3 min read.Updated: 26 Jan 2022, 09:30 PM ISTMATT GROSSMAN, The Wall Street Journal
Rapid-test brands sold $2.1 billion of diagnostics in the last quarter of 2021, but company forecasts lower demand this year
Abbott Laboratories, one of America’s largest producers of rapid tests for Covid-19, said that testing-related sales were $2.3 billion globally in the last three months of 2021 but forecast that demand for the tests will slow this year.
Rapid-test sales from Abbott’s BinaxNow, Panbio and ID NOW brands grew to $2.1 billion, from $1.9 billion in 2020’s fourth quarter, as the comparable stretch of 2021 included a spike in world-wide cases from the Omicron variant.
In the U.S., shifting public-health priorities and regulatory challenges made rapid tests hard to come by at the end of last year, while demand for the diagnostics was soaring.
Covid-19 tests contributed to overall sales of $4.47 billion for Abbott’s diagnostics division, up 2.9% year over year. Along with growth elsewhere in the company, including in its nutrition and medical-device businesses, that trend helped propel Abbott’s quarterly revenue 7.2% higher, to $11.47 billion.
After factoring in rising costs, Abbott’s net earnings fell to $1.99 billion, from $2.16 billion in the year-earlier quarter. The company’s adjusted earnings of $1.32 a share still beat Wall Street analysts’ consensus projections for adjusted earnings of $1.21 a share and sales of $10.71 billion, according to FactSet.
Looking ahead, Abbott said it expects adjusted earnings of at least $4.70 a share in 2022. Analysts had been guessing that Abbott’s 2022 adjusted earnings would come in at $4.78 a share.
Abbott forecast that Covid-19 testing-related sales will be $2.5 billion in 2022—significantly down from last year’s total of $7.7 billion. Most of this year’s testing sales will likely occur earlier in the year, Abbott said.
“We see our guidance as a prudent starting point, given the unpredictability of the virus and variants," a spokeswoman for the company said.
The stock was down 2.5% in early trading Wednesday. At $123.27 through Tuesday’s close, the shares have lost 12% so far in 2022.
Abbott’s role as a leading maker of rapid at-home Covid-19 tests in the U.S. has put the company at the center of efforts to distribute enough of the diagnostics to meet rising demand since late last year as the highly infectious Omicron variant began sending case counts to record levels.
With infections surging, the Biden administration has pressed the industry to catch up with demand for the tests this month, outlining plans for the federal government to buy and distribute 1 billion of the over-the-counter diagnostics. An Abbott division was one of three manufacturers to get federal contracts for a total of 380 million rapid tests earlier in January.
Abbott has said it is planning to make 70 million rapid tests this month, with plans to raise monthly production to 100 million by March. Overall, Abbott has distributed 1.4 billion Covid-19 tests since the start of the pandemic, the company said Thursday.
Throughout the pandemic, experts have debated the role that rapid tests such as Abbott’s BinaxNow brand should play alongside lab-based testing that takes longer but can deliver more accurate results. A relatively strict Food and Drug Administration review process for new tests also limited the selection available to the public.
During the Omicron wave, rapid tests have become indispensable as the rate of people experiencing milder Covid-19 infections shot up, especially as Americans navigated holiday plans last year and companies struggled with staffing shortages. The tests—when they could be found—have been critical to helping people decide whether they should stay home from work or keep apart from friends and family.
The supply-chain snags that have walloped sectors from car makers to supermarkets since last year have also hit other aspects of Abbott’s business. The company’s Similac-brand baby formula is one of several formulas that have grown hard to find in some parts of the U.S.
The company said earlier this month it is doing “all we can to ensure ongoing and consistent distribution of our products."
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text