Abbott Laboratories' (ABT) Miles White indicated on a Wednesday morning conference call that he is unfazed by Muddy Waters' attack on St. Jude (STJ) , and that the two merger partners' $25 billion deal remains on track to close by year's end. Discussion around Abbott's other acquisition in the works, of Alere (ALR) , was minimal, but the CEO did opine on China challenges and rebuffed speculation that the health care company has any intention of selling its diabetes business.
St. Jude has responded well and thoroughly to the short seller's assertions that its pacemakers and other heart failure devices are susceptible to hacking, White told investors following the release of its third-quarter earnings.
"They've been in great communication with us," White said. "I don't see this impacting the close of the deal or the business long term."
White also indicated that while he'd like to give his thoughts on Muddy Waters -- which on Wednesday issued yet another attack on St. Jude, unveiling a website with videos aimed to debunk its products alongside a series of tweets -- he'd said he'd refrain. "I will keep my thoughts to myself," the CEO said.
Yesterday Abbott and St. Jude disclosed a $1.2 billion divestiture aimed at addressing antitrust concerns over their merger, which they agreed on April 28 to pursue. The companies are selling parts of their vascular closure and electrophysiology businesses to Japan's Terumo.
White was also only slightly less mum when it came to Abbott's other pending and perhaps even more controversial acquisition -- the $7.9 billion cash and debt deal for Alere currently working through litigation. A pre-trial hearing in the Alere case is scheduled for Jan. 27, but Delaware Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III has been pressing Abbott and Alere to reach a settlement.
In light of ongoing controversy about the rationale for Alere, White said little about the deal except that it remains a long-term strategic fit. On other matters of speculation, White reiterated that Abbott's diabetes business remains a strategic and core unit for the company.
"If it's on your radar for some strategic move, take it off your screen," the CEO told investors. "The opportunity there is nothing but great moving forward."
White said that Abbott has rebuffed a number of inbound calls over the last five years from parties interested in acquiring the unit.
Outside of merger talk, White discussed the challenges facing the nutritional market in China, including the recent spate of food and product safety scares and the rapid and overwhelming transition to e-commerce. While the company is actively working to mitigate the market challenges for what represents only about 3% of Abbott's total sales, its diversity and size mean that it is is well-suited to absorb shock when it happens in one part of the company, he noted.
Even so, inventories have piled up and competitors of Abbott have oversupplied the market, White said, in light of the speed of the channel shift to e-commerce from modern trade alongside other market dynamics, including new safety laws that will take affect next year.
"The long-term attractiveness of the market is definitely still there, but it's kid of in an odd transition period that I don't think was anticipated," White noted.
"I know we've got a slower position in China, but it's not going to knock us back," White said, pointing to the better-than-anticipated performance of its U.S. nutritional business.
Abbott Park, Ill.-based Abbott on Thursday reported adjusted earnings of 59 cents per share, topping analysts' forecast by a penny.
Shares of Abbott retreated about 2.2% to $40.28 a piece by late morning Wednesday.