Updated from 11:16 a.m. EDTA strong first quarter prompted Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ ) Tuesday to raise its full-year earnings estimate by 5 cents to $3 a share. Robert J. Darretta, the company's vice chairman and CFO, told analysts Tuesday that he was "comfortable" with $3 a share even though the consensus view by analysts polled by Thomson First Call was $2.95. "We're in a position to endorse stronger expectations for the full-year performance," he said. His optimism was fueled primarily by the first quarter's results and the company's cost-control efforts. Darretta's remarks came during a telephone conference call heralding J&J's first-quarter earnings, whose 83 cents per share beat consensus estimates by 3 cents. Darretta said he was sticking to his previous guidance that revenue would grow in the "high single digits" for the year. Earnings growth will slow in the second half, he added. Darretta said J&J has historically built in a cushion for its earnings estimates, so if there is an unexpected disappointment or setback for a particular product, J&J won't need to revise its estimates. Despite a down market, the company's stock advanced 63 cents, or 1.2%, to $51.83. For the three months ended March 31, J&J reported a profit of $2.49 billion, or 83 cents a share, vs. $2.07 billion, or 69 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue rose to $11.56 billion. The consensus estimate of analysts was for net income of $2.38 billion, or 80 cents a share, on revenue of $11.34 billion. J&J's quarter was paced by several drugs or drug categories, including anti-infectives (up 28% worldwide to $383 million); the anti-psychotic Risperdal (up 22% to $731 million); and the epilepsy seizure treatment Topamax (up 42% to $328 million). But sales of the biggest pharmaceutical group -- the Procrit and Eprex drugs for anemia -- dropped 2% worldwide to $977 million amid increasing price competition. Many analysts believe J&J's anemia drug sales will continue to wilt under pressure from Amgen's ( AMGN) Aranesp. Darretta told analysts: "It will be more challenging to repeat our first-quarter performance."
A big sales gain was recorded by the Cordis unit, which makes cardiac care products. Total sales jumped 109% to $877 million with the U.S. component doing even better, up 221% to $591 million. Much of that boost came from Cypher, the medical device inserted into arteries to enhance blood flow and reduce the risk of heart disease. Cypher is a drug-coated stent, a wire mesh-like tube inserted into the arteries after they have been cleared of plaque. Drug-coated stents, which periodically release medication, do a better job of preventing reclogging of arteries than do plain metal stents. Despite the revenue numbers, it is still too early to determine how well Cypher will stand up to competition from Taxus, which is made by Boston Scientific ( BSX). Although both stents are sold in foreign markets, Taxus has only been available in the U.S. since early March. Boston Scientific recently said that it sold $98 million worth of Taxus in the U.S. between March 8 and March 31. Boston Scientific issues its first-quarter earnings next week. J&J said Cypher produced $432 million in U.S. sales for the first quarter, plus another $100 million overseas. However, Cypher's U.S. growth is hard to assess because the stent reached the U.S. market in April 2003, so there's no comparison to the first quarter of 2004. Darretta said the second quarter will provide a better picture when J&J determines how many Cypher customers decided to try Taxus then returned to Cypher. Darretta said manufacturing glitches that plagued the rollout of Cypher are "essentially behind us," adding that back orders are now solved within 24 to 48 hours. He also said the company expects to respond later this month to the Food and Drug Administration, which recently sent a warning letter about manufacturing practices at several plants making Cypher. Helen E. Short, vice president for investor relations, said the company could not determine if the FDA warning letter would have an impact on the development of second-generation Cypher products. She said she couldn't offer a timetable for when these devices might reach the market until the FDA tells the company what tests or other actions are required for the products' approval.