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Johnson & Johnson's 2018 forecast impresses before 'disappointing'

  • Johnson & Johnson reported fourth-quarter earnings on Tuesday.
  • Without acquisitions and divestitures, J&J expects organic sales growth to be in the range of 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent.
  • Including those deals, operational sales growth will be 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent.
Johnson & Johnson Listerine brand cool mint mouthwash bottles move through the production line on a conveyor at the J&J consumer healthcare products plant in Lititz, Pennsylvania.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Johnson & Johnson Listerine brand cool mint mouthwash bottles move through the production line on a conveyor at the J&J consumer healthcare products plant in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

Johnson & Johnson shares slipped Tuesday after the company clarified that its forecast for the year might not have been as high as some had hoped.

In a press release announcing fourth-quarter earnings, the company projected full-year sales of $80.6 billion to $81.4 billion, or 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent of operational growth. The figure topped the Street's consensus of $80.7 billion.

On a call with analysts, Chief Financial Officer Dominic Caruso said the numbers included the benefit of acquisitions and divestitures. Without those, organic growth is expected to be in the range of 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent.

J.P. Morgan analyst Mike Weinstein asked Caruso to explain the difference between the top-line outlook and what J&J saw in the fourth quarter and the second half of 2017, both of which were higher than the projection for next year.

"The fourth quarter of 2017 was higher than (the guidance), as you pointed out, and I think this just has to do with the ramp of products, particularly in the pharmaceutical business, which are continuing to grow, but they're obviously continuing to grow now off of a higher base," Caruso said. "So ... we took that into consideration in our estimate."

In a note to investors, Weinstein called the top-line forecast "disappointing," saying it fell below his expectation of 3.5 percent to 4 percent heading into the release. In the third quarter, J&J reported 3.8 percent growth for this metric. It was 4.2 percent in the fourth quarter.

Shares of J&J closed down 4.26 percent on Tuesday after rising as much as 1.9 percent in the premarket. The reversal followed both the earnings call and news that a U.S. appeals court upheld a ruling that invalidated a crucial Johnson & Johnson patent for Remicade.