Supreme strength is shown in levity

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While U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech last evening had a lighter tone than predicted and he remained seemingly optimistic about the passage of healthcare reform, the real levity for the cardiovascular industry may have been felt from the positive yearly and quarterly financial reports from medical device makers that were released this past week. Yet, as British theologian and author G.K. Chesterton suggests, it takes discipline to maintain levity.

St. Jude Medical shifted into black in the fourth quarter, recovering from net losses of $201 million in the fourth quarter of 2008 to a net income of nearly $190 million in the fourth quarter of last year. In 2009, the company more than doubled its net earnings ($777 million), compared with 2008. The company’s gains were attributed to single-digit gains across all its cardiovascular product lines, except atrial fibrillation, which had a 10 percent jump in the 2009 fourth quarter and 15 percent increase for the year.

Meanwhile, Philips Healthcare is benefiting from its foray into home health and patient monitoring solutions, as those sales offset declines in its legacy imaging and informatics product lines. Also, the company noted that emerging markets offset the “still soft U.S. market,” posting a slightly higher yearly profit in 2009, compared with the previous year ($11.1 billion vs. $10.8 billion).

The newest kid on the U.S. drug-eluting stent block, Abbott, continued to see profits in 2009, reporting an earnings gap of 17.7 percent for the 2009 fiscal year ($5.75 billion), compared with the previous year. The company’s stent sales slipped slightly in the U.S., but increased by 18.3 percent internationally in the fourth quarter of 2009. However, for 2009, Abbott posted a 53 percent uptick in U.S. stent sales over the previous year.

Imaging leviathan GE Healthcare presents the one wavering needle in this pendulum. The company saw its healthcare segment drop 15 percent in 2009 compared to the previous fiscal year. Yet, GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt expressed hope: “Our healthcare business experienced solid orders growth and enters 2010 with a higher backlog than last year.”

Using a term that may be overused in the past year, Chesterton also wrote about the power of hope during difficult times: Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate.

Maintaining this type of hope or levity among such difficult financial times may have more foundation based on these early financial returns from leading cardiovascular device makers.

On these topics, or any others, please feel free to contact me.

Justine Cadet