Abbott Labs CEO: We're Focused on Paying Down Debt, Not M&A

Don't expect Abbott Laboratories (ABT) to announce any major deals anytime soon.

The health care giant is instead focusing on slashing debt from its recent purchases, according to chairman and CEO Miles D. White.

"I'm not out looking for M&A, and I don't have any significant M&A on the radar screen," White said on an earnings call on Wednesday, Jan. 24. "Frankly, I don't have any M&A on the radar screen because I want to hit those debt targets by year-end."

In October, Abbott completed its acquisition of diagnostics firm Alere Inc. for $51 per share, or $5.3 billion in equity value. And in January of last year, Abbott wrapped up its $33 billion purchase of St. Jude Medical Inc., a maker of heart-failure devices and technology.

"[We] were up to a gross $28 billion of debt because of our acquisitions of St. Jude and Alere and a little bit of lingering debt we had just over time," White said on the call.

That number has gone down by $4 billion following a debt repayment this month. White said the company will probably repay an additional $3.5 billion to $4 billion in the next six months, bringing its debt down to $20 billion by year end.

"We have already exceeded the targets that the rating agencies had for us," he said, adding that the company's debt-to-Ebitda ratio will be below three times at year end, and below two times on a net debt basis.

Commenting on the new tax bill, White said he was pleased with how it turned out. "As a multinational and a company that had a lot of debt in the last two years because of the acquisitions, I had concerns about some of the structures they were looking at. But it all turned out pretty good," he said.

Abbott's fourth-quarter results exceeded analysts' estimates, with the company reporting adjusted diluted earnings from continuing operations of 74 cents per share on revenue of $7.6 billion. Analysts had forecast adjusted EPS of 73 cents on revenue of $7.38 billion, according to Bloomberg. For 2018, the Abbott Park, Ill.-based company projected adjusted EPS from continuing operations of $2.80 to $2.90.

Shares of Abbott rose 4% on Wednesday morning to $61.62, and are up 52% over the last 12 months.

Abbott Laboratories is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells ABT? Learn more now.

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