Despite legal troubles, Johnson & Johnson is in the financial driver's seat for 2022 and beyond, CFO says

Johnson & Johnson reported $502 million in COVID-19 vaccine sales in the third quarter and did not revise its annual guidance for sales of the shot, keeping it at $2.5 billion. (Raysonho/CC0)

Headlines about its underachieving COVID-19 vaccine, its attempts to resolve opioid and talc litigation and the coming departure of CEO Alex Gorsky suggest that it has been a difficult year for Johnson & Johnson.

But Tuesday was a reminder that the company remains a financial powerhouse as it reported (PDF) earnings that beat analyst estimates. Fueled by a 13.8% increase in pharma sales, J&J reported revenue of $23.3 billion for the third quarter, an increase of 10.7% from last year. As a result, the company has revised its guidance for annual sales.

It was a successful quarter for the company’s other divisions as sales of medical devices were up 8% and sales of consumer health increased 5.3%. But they couldn’t match the performance of pharma, which racked up $12.99 billion in revenue, up from $11.42 in the same quarter of last year.

“I hope you take away from our third quarter results just how broad our financial strength is, setting us up very well to close out 2021, but more importantly 2022 and beyond,” J&J CFO Joseph Wolk said on a conference call.

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Oncology, which posted global sales growth of 16.5%, was led by multiple myeloma treatment Darzalex, whose sales jumped to $1.58 billion for the quarter, an increase of 43%. Prostate cancer drug Erleada registered $344 million in sales, a bump of 66% from a year ago.

Meanwhile J&J’s immunology portfolio, which was up 11.7%, was led by inflammatory disease stalwart Stelara. That drug continued its upward trajectory with $2.38 billion in sales, a 22% increase, with share gains of 4 points in Crohn’s disease and 7 points in ulcerative colitis in the U.S.

In addition, emerging plaque psoriasis treatment Tremfya racked up $537 million, for a 64% increase from a year ago.  

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As for its COVID-19 vaccine, J&J reported sales of $502 million, which beat analyst expectations but didn’t result in a change in guidance for the year as the company still expects to rack up $2.5 billion. The guidance isn’t affected by the expected news that the FDA will grant approval of a second shot of the vaccine to those 18 and older, provided their first shot wasn’t within the last two months.

“I always smile a little bit whenever there’s vaccine news because it seems to be an overly pronounced impact on our stock—good or bad—and it makes me chuckle a little bit because the strength of our business is really in our pharmaceutical, medical device and consumer health these days,” Wolk said.

On the legal front, Johnson & Johnson recently moved to transition its talc litigation liabilities to a new subsidiary, for which it plans to declare bankruptcy. The company has set aside $2 billion for that effort, but plaintiffs have said they'll resist the move.

Before that, J&J agreed to pay $5 billion as part of an opioid settlement with three major U.S. drug distributors.