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Abbvie rakes in profit as investors look for assurance on Shire deal

July 25, 2014, 2:08 PM UTC
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Kyle Bean for Fortune

Abbvie, the Chicago-based pharmaceutical company, announced second quarter earnings Friday that beat analyst expectations. The results come in the wake of the company’s $55 billion deal to buy UK-based Shire, which would help reduce Abbvie’s tax bill and potentially save the company millions each year.

U.S. legislators have been looking for ways to shut down such “tax inversion” deals that are costing the nation billions in lost tax revenue. President Obama has even weighed in on the debate, calling companies that strike these deals unpatriotic and calling for legislative action to block inversions. The ongoing debate has caused nervousness among investors, who are looking for details on how this could affect current deals like Abbive-Shire.

Will investors be happy?

The good news is that Abbvie’s (ABBV) earnings are up more than expected, driven by sales of the company’s No.1 drug Humira, a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. However, there were precious few details in the release that add color to the company’s recent agreement to buy Shire (ADR). Investors were looking for any perceived risk to the deal given the roiling debate around tax inversions.

Top-line numbers

Earnings excluding one-time charges were 82 cents a share, above analyst estimates of 76 cents, according to Bloomberg data. Adjusted earnings are typically used for pharmaceutical companies since they show the earnings potential of the company’s drugs. GAAP earnings were 68 cents a share, a penny above estimates, the company said Friday.

Sales were up 5% year-over-year to $4.9 billion, surpassing quarterly estimates of $4.7 billion. The increase was driven by higher-than-expected gains in Humira sales, which were up 17.8% compared to a year earlier, rising to $3.3 billion.

Last month, Abbvie raised its yearly earnings outlook to $3.06 to $3.16 a share. The company reiterated those numbers again.

What does this mean?

Investors have been looking for any kind of “execution risk” related to the Shire deal, which is expected to lower Abbvie’s annual tax rate to 13% in 2016 from its current 22%. That would mean higher profits for investors. Abbvie cannot back out of the deal if U.S. tax laws change, although the latest debates in Congress seem to point to legislation that would not apply retroactively, keeping the Shire deal in play.

Investors are wary of anything going wrong since it could cost the company as much as 3% of the deal’s value, or $1.6 billion, in breakup fees, according to filings.

Something else to pay attention to is Abbvie’s new Hepatitis C drug, cryptically referred to as its HCV program. The drug has reached key approval milestones and is expected to launch in the U.S. this year. Abbvie’s earnings outlook excludes any potential revenue from the new drug, which means the yearly earnings numbers could grow bigger with a new drug on its roster.