Biotech and Pharma

The new tax law won't change Johnson & Johnson's M&A strategy, CEO says

Key Points
  • Johnson & Johnson reported a $13.6 billion hit from the new tax law in its fourth-quarter earnings.
  • The new tax code will help lower J&J's effective tax rate for 2018.
  • CEO Alex Gorsky said the windfall from repatriation won't affect J&J's overall M&A strategy.
Johnson & Johnson CEO: We should all be acting like Amazon's getting into our business
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The new tax law won't change Johnson & Johnson's approach to mergers and acquisitions, CEO Alex Gorsky said.

Gorsky reiterated what he and a number of other companies' executives have already said, which is the windfall won't make them lose their discipline. However, a string of biotech deals have already been announced this year, and more could be coming.

"Regarding tax reform, what we said from the very beginning is that one of the major reasons in addition to lowering the rate is just frankly the flexibility that it provides us and we think it actually helps make us more competitive, particularly on an international level, if we happen to be in a competitive situation with other companies, because now we have greater flexibility on how we can access that cash," Gorsky said Tuesday on a call with analysts.

J&J reported a one-time effect of $13.6 billion to its fourth-quarter earnings associated with the recent changes. However, the new tax code will lower J&J's effective tax rate and allow the health-care products company to repatriate its $16 billion in overseas cash at a less expensive rate.

Wall Street has speculated J&J would use the cash to make more deals, though the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company completed a $30 billion acquisition of Swiss biotech company Actelion last summer.

J&J will immediately bring back about $12 billion and use it to fund U.S. operations, Chief Financial Officer Dominic Caruso said on the call. That will make it possible for J&J to stop borrowing for U.S. ventures and pay down debt.

"We are pleased by the final passage of the U.S. tax cuts and jobs act," Caruso said. "New legislation to modernize the U.S. tax code for business, which we believe will further jump start the economy, fueling jobs and investment and level the playing field between U.S. and foreign headquarter companies."

J&J expects its effective tax rate to fall between 16.5 and 18 percent this year thanks to the new code. J&J's adjusted full-year tax rate was 17.2 percent for 2017. Caruso said the number was below the company's previous forecasts because of more research and development investments in the U.S. and would have otherwise been between 19 and 19.5 percent.