Should Johnson & Johnson Break Up?


With all of the big pharma spinoffs and sales of underperforming or unwanted business segments recently, it seems hard to pinpoint a single major health care company that's kept the entire business together. If any company in the sector seemed bound to avoid this hot trend, it was Johnson & Johnson -- the giant with its hands in virtually every corner of health care.

Now, even J&J may be getting into the action. With the company posting lackluster 2013 guidance and reporting that it's looking for new growth strategies, J&J could be ready to get rid of its Ortho Clinical Diagnostics business. Is this the right move, or should health care's biggest name keep the team together?

A business worth dumping
Johnson & Johnson's Ortho Clinical Diagnostics business makes blood screening devices and all sorts of assorted tests. We're not talking about a particularly impacting business -- the diagnostics division only accounts for around 3.3% of the company's total revenue -- but it's a sign that Johnson & Johnson is ready to make waves after its quarterly report.

The company's earnings sparked the entire debate. While J&J's earnings soundly topped analyst projections, its 2013 guidance came in lower than projected. As concerned shareholders raised eyebrows, CEO Alex Gorsky announced that the company could look to molecular diagnostics, biomarkers, or other higher-growth alternatives to the Ortho division in the future.

The diagnostics branch isn't a market leader, and its sales declined more than 4% during the last quarter; sales also dropped during the third quarter, as well, forming a disappointing trend for the division. Through the first nine months of 2012, only J&J's cardiovascular unit suffered worse operational losses than the diagnostics division out of the company's entire medical device and diagnostics portfolio.

As the clinical diagnostics industry serves a mature market, it'll be hard for Gorsky to push for much growth here as he tries to fuel increased sales in J&J's medical device business, particularly after last year's $21 billion purchase of Synthes has helped push up the latest financials. Selling a low-growth business sounds like a respectable idea, but are there any buyers?

Abbott, Roche, and spinoff potential
One company in the running immediately comes to mind: Abbott Labs . Abbott's on the prowl for acquisitions after splitting off its pharmaceutical business, and while the company's reportedly eying up-for-sale Bausch & Lomb, the Ortho Clinical business could make sense as well. Abbott's no longer a growth powerhouse after the spinoff, and while J&J's diagnostics business may be sluggish, Abbott has a sizable diagnostics division of its own. The company's business sold more than $3 billion through the first nine months of 2012, and there's significant synergies and expertise to build up for a successful marriage of the two divisions.

Roche could be another candidate. The company is another one on the acquisition prowl, and it sports a sizable diagnostics unit of its own. Roche recently invested heavily in diagnostics production in Europe, and adding J&J's business could further cement its position among the global leaders in the industry.

Alternatively, J&J could make like Pfizer and Abbott and simply spin off the Ortho business. Pfizer's Zoetis animal health care business -- which is looking to generate possibly more than $2 billion in its IPO - racked up 7% of Pfizer's revenues through the first nine months of 2012, a total of more than $3 billion. J&J's diagnostics business might not be able to raise quite that much, but with IPOs becoming the hot trend in spinning off unwanted businesses, it could unlock a good opportunity for the company.

Time for a split
In all, there's not much point in Johnson & Johnson hanging onto its diagnostics business if the company's looking for growth. With the division on the decline and sales not looking up for a mature market, J&J can better use the money from a sale or spinoff into actually investing in higher-growth businesses. While no one knows what the company will do quite yet -- speculation only started up last week, after all -- keep your eye on health care's colossus. Johnson & Johnson could just be ready to break up its long-standing reach across virtually every corner of the medical sector.

With its combination of strong financials and a cushy position atop the health care field, however, Johnson & Johnson should be on every investor's radar. Offering everything from baby powder to biologics, critics think the company has spread itself too thin, becoming nothing more than a bloated corporate whale. Is this true, or is J&J a well-diversified giant that's perfect for your portfolio? Make sure you understand the full story behind the stock, along with its key opportunities and risks, by checking out our brand new premium report on Johnson & Johnson. To claim your copy simply click here now for instant access.

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