Johnson & Johnson 4Q profit jumps on higher sales, lower charges

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Higher sales of prescription drugs and medical devices helped Johnson & Johnson post a much bigger fourth-quarter profit than a year ago, when a slew of charges depressed results.

However, consumer health product sales dipped and the company again pushed back its timeline for returning recalled products to stores. In addition, J&J's 2013 profit forecast, for $5.35 to $5.45 per share, is below the average analyst estimate of $5.49.

The New Brunswick, New Jersey, company said Tuesday that net income was $2.57 billion, or 91 cents per share, up from $218 million, or 8 cents per share, in 2011's fourth quarter.

Excluding about $800 million in charges in the latest quarter, earnings would have been $3.38 billion, or $1.19 per share, 2 cents above analysts' expectations. The charges include J&J's biggest acquisition ever and increased litigation reserves over recalls of defective DePuy hip implants.

The maker of attention deficit drug Concerta, Acuvue contact lenses and consumer health products such as No More Tears shampoo said revenue totaled $17.56 billion, up 8 percent from a year ago but just shy of analysts' average estimate of $17.69 billion.

J&J shares fell 54 cents to close at $72.69 Tuesday.

"On the whole, the quarter was no problem,'' said WBB Securities analyst Steve Brozak, adding J&J needs to quickly decide what to do with its $12.5 billion in free cash flow. ``Are they going to buy, are they going to sell or are they going to stand still?''

CEO Alex Gorsky told analysts during a conference call that the company is exploring alternatives such as the sale or spinoff of its Ortho Clinical Diagnostics business. It makes equipment and supplies for detecting and diagnosing conditions such as HIV, diabetes and high cholesterol and for ensuring donated blood is safe.

"Johnson & Johnson delivered solid results in 2012, with momentum continuing to build and sales growth accelerating,'' Gorsky said. "As we enter 2013, I believe we're well positioned to drive growth in this increasingly competitive, dynamic market.''

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