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Abbott Labs Has Fallen and It Can't Get Up

Stocks in this article: ABT ABBV JNJ BSX RHHBY

For this reason, I can only take management at its word. But the logic in the rest of the business was still a tough sell, given the strong numbers I've seen from Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Boston Scientific (BSX). The company didn't even crack 1% growth in molecular diagnostics. Even more heart-wrenching was the 1% growth in the established pharmaceuticals business.

In odd fashion, management claimed that the 1% growth was due to a 10% operational growth in key international markets. I don't see how that made any sense. The good news was that Abbott found strong support in the diagnostic area. That segment was up more than 8% year over year.

While it's encouraging that the medical optics business advanced close to 15%, that segment is not nearly as large as the devices business. In fairness, the 4% growth is a step in the right direction. But the 4% decline in diabetes killed any sort of glass half-full optimism I could have had.

This narrative hasn't changed. And I don't see how the Street still justifies giving Abbott a higher premium than a top-notch performer like Roche (RHHBY). Not to mention, with the recall in effect due to the contamination, Abbott's dominant nutrition business is in danger of becoming malnourished.

The way I see it, the company has now reached a point where management should start thinking about a strategic acquisition or two. This is the only way for Abbott to catch up to Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific in areas like devices.

And if the company truly cares about shoring up its deficit in diagnostics, which was steady this quarter, significant capital reinvestments need to be made -- especially since Johnson & Johnson has all but given up that market. Rivals like Roche are just not going to sit idle and wait for Abbott to make up its mind.

At best these shares are a hold. The only way to justify buying this stock -- and then, only on a pullback -- is for management to demonstrate better operating balance among all business segments.

We're not there yet.

At the time of publication, the author held no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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