Abbott weathers 2021's COVID-testing roller coaster ride with $7.7B in annual diagnostic sales

2021 was full of ups and downs, and coronavirus test makers bore the brunt of each and every move.



As the vaccination rate in the U.S. shot upwards in the first half of the year, it seemed as if regular COVID-19 testing was to become a thing of the past, leaving manufacturers to cut back factory outputs and slash financial forecasts.

By mid-summer, however, diagnostic demand began climbing back up, as surges of first the delta and then the omicron variant sent test makers scrambling, while simultaneously facing global supply chain issues.



Despite that veritable roller coaster ride of disconnects between supply and demand, many diagnostic developers still came out ahead at the end of the year, and perhaps none so much as Abbott, which tallied annual COVID-related sales in the multibillion-dollar range.



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For the full year, the medtech giant reported total COVID test sales of $7.7 billion. The fourth quarter of 2021 brought in more than its fair share of those earnings, with $2.3 billion, though it fell short of the same three-month period in 2020 when Abbott raked in about $2.4 billion from its coronavirus offerings.



Still, 2021’s earnings massively dwarfed those of 2020, which saw total COVID-related sales of about $3.9 billion between the second and fourth quarters.



In total, Abbott said it has distributed more than 1.4 billion COVID tests since the start of the pandemic. Throughout that time, it’s received a handful of emergency authorizations from the FDA for its diagnostics, beginning with the RealTime molecular assay in March 2020 and later the rapid BinaxNow test, which was among the first cleared for fully at-home use.



The full year’s results look quite different from the various sales forecasts Abbott put out during 2021. Not only do they far outstrip the $4 billion to $4.5 billion that the company predicted in June, amid slumping demand, but they’re even higher than the more optimistic outlook Abbott put forward at the very beginning of the year when it was hoping for COVID-related sales of about $6.5 billion.



But even after outperforming its own forecasts, Abbott is taking those results with a grain of salt and keeping its expectations low for the coming year. To start, it’s predicting a $2.5 billion take from COVID testing for the year, the bulk of which it said will likely arrive in the beginning of 2022, though the company noted that the forecast isn’t set in stone, with quarterly updates expected.



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Outside of the higher-than-expected COVID-related sales, Abbott still clocked a solid year of earnings. Across the entire global business, sales reached $43 billion in 2021, a 24.5% improvement over 2020. In just the fourth quarter, Abbott’s total sales surged 7.2% compared to 2020, and even higher—to 9.6%—when COVID test sales are excluded.



Even the diagnostics segment did rather well for itself when coronavirus test earnings are subtracted from the total. While global sales in the sector jumped a respectable 2.9% in the fourth quarter, to about $4.5 billion, the increase was even greater without COVID test sales included, surging 8.2% year over year.