Abbott Has Cash to Burn But Sees Nothing Attractive, CEO Says

(Bloomberg) -- Abbott Laboratories is back in the driver’s seat when it comes to acquisitions, Chief Executive Officer Miles White said. Problem is, nothing looks good.

The medical-device and diagnostics company has made significant strides in paying down the $28 billion in debt it picked up with the purchases of St. Jude Medical and Alere in 2017, White said Wednesday on a call with analysts. Along with strong cash flow, that gives Abbott the strategic flexibility to get back into the buying game, he said.

“I don’t see a very robust, target-rich environment out there,” White said. “If something comes along, I would say we’re well positioned to be ready to do something, but to be honest, we haven’t seen something that attractive.”

On Wednesday, Abbott posted first-quarter earnings from continuing operations of 63 cents per share, above the 61 cents expected by analysts, on $7.5 billion in sales. Last year the company had $4.9 billion in free cash flow.

“One of our challenges is going to be capital deployment because we’re going to have a lot of it,” he said. “We’re going to generate a lot of cash over the coming years, and we are going to generate a lot of profit. We want to either invest that or return it to shareholders at the highest possible return.”

To be fair, White confessed that even if there were something he was interested in acquiring, he wouldn’t give industry watchers a heads-up. The key point, he said, is that the company is now in a position to act.

“We are no longer constrained,” he said.

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