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What You Need to Know About AbbVie's Surprisingly Strong Q1 Earnings

Keith Speights, The Motley Fool

AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV) raised concerns among investors the last time it delivered quarterly results. The drugmaker's January report showed it had missed analysts' estimates on both the top and bottom lines in the fourth quarter, after getting surprised somewhat by its rivals' aggressive pricing of  biosimilars to its top-selling treatment, Humira, in Europe.

The company announced its 2019 first-quarter results before the market opened on Thursday. This time around, though, AbbVie provided a pleasant surprise for investors. Here are the highlights from the company's Q1 results.

Multicolored pills with some arranged to form a dollar sign

Image source: Getty Images.

By the numbers

AbbVie reported Q1 net revenue of $7.83 billion, down 1.3% from the prior-year period. The good news, however, was that this figure came in higher than analysts' consensus revenue estimate of $7.76 billion. And on an operational basis (which assumes a constant currency rate), the company's Q1 revenue increased 0.4% year over year.

The big pharma company's GAAP net earnings for quarter were $2.46 billion, or $1.65 per share. This was a decline from Q1 2018, when AbbVie reported GAAP net earnings of $2.78 billion, or $1.74 per share.

On a non-GAAP adjusted basis, AbbVie's Q1 earnings came in at $2.14 per share -- up 14.4% year over year. This result not only topped analysts' consensus estimate of $2.06 per share, it exceeded even the most optimistic individual estimate in the array ($2.10 per share).

Behind the numbers

As always, the biggest factor behind AbbVie's quarterly results was the performance of Humira. The immunology drug made $4.45 billion in the first quarter, down 5.6% from the prior-year period on a reported basis and 3.8% on an operational basis.

Those results were in line with expectations. International sales for the drug fell 27.9% year over year to $1.23 billion. However, U.S. Humira sales increased by 7.1% to $3.22 billion.

The brightest spot in the quarter was AbbVie's hematology-oncology franchise. Sales for Imbruvica jumped 34% year over year to $1.02 billion, while Venclexta continued its momentum in its first year on the market with sales of $151 million.

The rest of the company's lineup performed about as expected. AbbVie's hepatitis C virus drugs Mavyret and Viekira together generated revenue of $815 million, down 11.3% from the prior-year period. Other key drugs, including Creon, Lupron, and Duodopa, contributed combined sales of $1.28 billion. This reflected a 4.7% year-over-year decline.

Although AbbVie's GAAP earnings were down from Q1 2018, its adjusted non-GAAP earnings improved for several reasons. The biggest factors behind the increase in non-GAAP earnings were adjustments due to a change in the fair value of contingent consideration and for AbbVie's corporate restructuring.

Looking ahead

Perhaps the best news was that AbbVie raised its full-year earnings guidance. The company is now forecasting GAAP earnings per share (EPS) for 2019 of $7.26 to $7.36. It also projects adjusted EPS for 2019 will land between $8.73 and $8.83. AbbVie's previous adjusted EPS guidance range was $8.65 to $8.75.

AbbVie announced on Wednesday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had approved Skyrizi (risankizumab) for treating moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis. CEO Rick Gonzalez said that the drug "has the potential to set a new standard of care in psoriasis and represents a significant long-term opportunity for AbbVie."

In a way, this approval of Skyrizi represents the beginning of a new era for AbbVie. Sales for longtime flagship drug Humira have begun their inevitable decline. Skyrizi and upadacitinib, which awaits FDA approval, are the company's future, and overall, that future still appears to be a bright one.

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Keith Speights owns shares of AbbVie. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.