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Johnson & Johnson struggles to boost drug sales even as profits gain

Johnson & Johnson Products Ahead Of EarningsJohnson & Johnson Products Ahead Of Earnings
Johnson & Johnson expects strong earnings in 2016.Photograph by Scott Eells, Bloomberg—Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson, the world’s biggest maker of health-care products, revealed weaker-than-expected drug sales even as profits gained in the third quarter, thanks to a lower tax rate.

The company has been building up its drug segment as sales of other products, such as medical devices, have struggled to retain customers and compete on price. Worldwide pharmaceutical sales declined 7.4% to $7.7 billion from a year ago, as sale of top drugs like arthritis treatment Remicade, blood thinner Xarelto, and psoriasis drug Stelara fell short of expectations.

Despite disappointing sales for valuable pharmaceuticals and other segments, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) beat analysts’ estimates on profits by 4 cents. The company’s effective tax rate dropped to about 20% from 24.2% from a year earlier, helping boost its bottom line. Johnson & Johnson also raised its outlook for the year by 5 cents to $6.20 a share.

Separately, the company announced a $10 billion share repurchase program, twice the amount it budgeted last year. There’s no set time frame for the repurchases, which is the equivalent of about 3.8% of shares outstanding based on Monday’s closing price.

While a welcome windfall, that still hasn’t taken investors attention away from a possible acquisition in the pharmaceutical space. The company failed in its bid for Pharmacyclics in March when it was outbid by AbbeVie‘s (ABBV) $21 billion offer. Johnson & Johnson had partnered with Pharmacyclics to develop its cancer drug, Imbruvica, which is expected to become a blockbuster for Johnson & Johnson next year with sales projected at more than $1 billion. CEO Alex Gorsky hinted that the company is keeping its feelers out.

“We’re focusing our portfolio and are advancing our innovation agenda to expand our leadership position in key categories while seeking new opportunities for growth,” Gorsky said in a statement.

On the consumer side, sales of its over-the-counter products, such as Tylenol, Zyrtec, Neutrogena and Listerine, contributed to positive operational results for the segment.