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Next decade will transform health care more than past century: J&J CEO

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Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Joaquin Duato, the new CEO of Johnson & Johnson, is comfortable enough in his new position at the 135-year-old company to issue a bold claim just a few months into the job and during his first interview: he predicts the next decade will see more health-care transformation than occurred during the past century.

Duato, the first non-U.S. born CEO for the company, and first to hold dual citizenship (Spain and U.S.), has been with J&J for three decades and was at one point the chief information officer of its pharmaceuticals business, giving him key insights into the role of technology in health care.

Priority No. 1, Duato told CNBC’s Meg Tirrell at Healthy Returns on Wednesday, is the opportunity “to create more progress in health in this decade than we have seen in the last 100 years.”

As J&J prepares to split into two companies, Duato said that separating the consumer brands like Band-Aid, Tylenol, Neutrogena and Listerine from medical technology and pharmaceuticals will help the company be at the forefront of surgical techniques that transform health care.

“For the consumer health company, it’s going to be an opportunity to deepen the relationships with consumers to attract new investors, to inspire employees, and to be able to have a fit-for-purpose model with their own capital location priorities … and then for the new Johnson & Johnson it is going to be an opportunity to be more focused, more competitive and to deliver increased growth,” Duato said.

Johnson & Johnson, which is a bellwether in the health-care sector for hospital surgeries and procedures, has seen Covid pressure the overall business, but the CEO noted ahead of the upcoming earnings season that it did see good performance in its medical device business in 2021, with close to 16% growth, even as Covid weighed on activity and in particular, elective procedures.

Duato said the company is gaining share in its priority medtech platforms and expects “good” performance this year.

In 2021, the company invested more than $2 billion in innovation, an increase of 23% in the middle of the pandemic. “That’s a sign of how much we believe in the opportunity that I was describing … of combining science and technology to deliver improvements in patient care,” Duato said.

Research and development on the drug side is accelerating as well, he said, with a pipeline of 14 new medicines to be filed before 2025. “All of them are providing significant improvements in the standard of care, and at the same time, all of them with more than a billion-dollar potential,” he said.

Duato cited the recent approval of CARVYKTI, an antigen receptor T-cell therapy for the treatment of multiple myeloma, which helped 98% of patients who were otherwise likely to be headed for hospice care. “We are very optimistic about the treatment modalities that we are bringing, like cell therapy that are going to enable us have an aspiration to be able to cure some diseases that were thought to be incurable,” he said.

AI and real-time surgical data

Duato, who served as interim CIO at Johnson and Johnson for almost a year in 2019, said that role gave him insights into how artificial intelligence and automation can make surgery smarter. “I see a future in which all medical devices would be smarter, connected to the cloud, being able to provide data to the surgeons for them to be able to in real time deliver better surgical outcomes,” he said.

Machine learning, when combined with genetics, is also accelerating the discovery and development of new medicines.

“We can do genomic sequencing, and at the same time with large data sets, utilize AI and machine learning to create patterns in which we can correlate diseases with genomic profiling, to identify what are going to be the underpinnings of diseases that are going to be the triggers, the targets that we are going to be able to utilize in our discovery,” Duato said.

New compounds can be measured against a single cell to more rapidly identify pharmacological activity, such as expected toxicities, and accelerate the development of new medicines. “We can plan much better our clinical trials, we are able to create synthetic control groups instead of having placebo groups and we are also able to stratify and identify patients that are difficult to find in rare diseases utilizing algorithms that enable us to identify them,” he said. “I’m very bullish about the potential of technology in accelerating discovery and developing new medicines.”

Inflation and consumer demand 

The current economic situation is “volatile,” Duato said, with inflationary headwinds in the supply chain and availability of important raw materials and components, though he said the company’s scale as the largest health-care firm helps and the guidance it already provided to the market earlier in the year showed a healthy growth rate in revenue and in earnings per share.

Inflation will remain a factor, as some pressures alleviate this year but others remain longer, Duato said. The consumer business is more affected by inflationary pressures and there is more concern throughout the market and economy that consumers will begin to buy “off brand” products when they have the option.

“Overall, we’ve seen volatility in the consumer demand,” Duato said, “but we continue to see very solid consumer business coming through and we continue to try to deliver what is best for consumers and we continue to try to mitigate our cost increases by improving our own efficiency, and in some cases also having price increases but overall, we are bullish about the potential of our consumer health business and about our ability to navigate the inflationary pressures in a way that is optimal for consumers,” he said.

Johnson & Johnson has faced multiple lawsuits over products and medical devices, from talc to hip replacement and opioids, which have resulted in significant financial settlements, without any admission of wrongdoing, as well as ongoing litigation.

Duato declined to go into legal specifics. “We understand that we have a reputation. We understand that we have a high bar and a high expectation from society overall….Yes, we have some challenges when you refer to the litigation. … Ultimately, we want to always reach a fair and equitable resolution in order to be able to focus on what we do best. And what we do best is to continue to develop medicines, medical devices, consumer products that improve consumer lives and also are able to address patients’ needs.”



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Fiji fires police commissioner and end security deal with China

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Police operate a security check point in the Fijian capital of Suva in December following general elections. The Pacific island nation has played an important regional role amid competition between China on the one side and Australia, New Zealand and the United States on the other.

Saeed Khan | Afp | Getty Images

Fiji’s president on Friday suspended the commissioner of police following a general election saw the first change in government in the Pacific island nation in 16 years, after the military earlier warned against “sweeping changes.”

President Ratu Wiliame Katonivere said Commissioner of Police Sitiveni Qiliho had been suspended on the advice of the Constitutional Offices Commission, “pending investigation and referral to and appointment of, a tribunal.”

The Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem was also suspended by the commission, the statement said.

Qiliho declined to comment to local media because he said he will face a tribunal over his conduct. He was seen as being close to former prime minister Frank Bainimarama, who led Fiji for 16 years before a coalition of parties narrowly won December’s election and installed Sitiveni Rabuka as leader of the strategically important Pacific nation.

The day before a coalition agreement was struck, Qiliho and Bainimarama called on the military to maintain law and order because they said the hung election result had sparked ethnic tensions, a claim disputed by the coalition parties.

The Pacific island nation, which has a history of military coups, has been pivotal to the region’s response to competition between China and the United States, and struck a deal with Australia in October for greater defence cooperation.

No more China policing deal

On Thursday, Fiji Times reported that Rabuka said his government would end a police training and exchange agreement with China.

“Our system of democracy and justice systems are different so we will go back to those that have similar systems with us,” the prime minister was quoted as saying, referring to Australia and New Zealand.

The prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Republic of Fiji Military Forces Commander Major General Jone Kalouniwai earlier this month warned Rabuka’s government against making “sweeping changes,” and has insisted it abide by a 2013 constitution which gives the military a key role.



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Inventory glut and underused factories

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Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, with U.S. President Joe Biden (not pictured), announces the tech firm’s plan to build a $20 billion plant in Ohio, from the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, January 21, 2022.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Intel’s December earnings showed significant declines in the company’s sales, profit, gross margin, and outlook, both for the quarter and the full year.

Investors hated it, sending the stock over 9% lower in extended trading, despite the fact that Intel did not cut its dividend.

The earnings report, which was the eighth under CEO Pat Gelsinger’s leadership, shows a legendary technology company struggling with many factors outside of its control, including a deeply slumping PC market. It also highlights some of Intel’s current issues with weak demand for its current products and inefficient internal performance, and underscores how precarious the company’s financial health has become.

“Clearly, the financials aren’t what we would hoped,” Gelsinger told analysts.

In short: Intel had a difficult 2022, and 2023 is shaping up to be tough as well.

Here are some of the most concerning bits from Intel’s earnings report and analyst call:

Weak and uncertain guidance

Intel didn’t give full-year guidance for 2023, citing economic uncertainty.

But the data points for the current quarter suggest tough times. Intel guided for about $11 billion in sales in the March quarter, which would be a 40% year-over-year decline. Gross margin will be 34.1%, a huge decrease from the 55.2% in the same quarter in 2021, Gelsinger’s first at the helm.

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But the biggest issue for investors is that Intel guided to a 15 cent non-GAAP loss per share, a big decline for a company that a year ago was reporting $1.13 in profit per share. It would be the first loss per share since last summer, which was the first loss for the company in decades.

An inventory glut

Dropoff in gross margin

Underpinning all of this is that Intel’s gross margin continues to decline, hurting the company’s profitability. One issue is “factory load,” or how efficiently factories run around the clock. Intel said that its gross margin would be hit by 400 basis points, or 4 percentage points, because of factories running under load because of soft demand.

Ultimately, Intel forecasts a 34.1% gross margin in the current quarter — a far cry from the 51% to 53% goal the company set at last year’s investor day. The company says it’s working on it, and the margin could get back to Intel’s goal “in the medium-term” if demand recovers.

“We have a number of initiatives under way to improve gross margins and we’re well under way. When you look at the $3 billion reduction [in costs] that we talked about for 2023, 1 billion of that is in cost of sales and we’re well on our way to getting that billion dollars,” Gelsinger said.

The not-so-bad news: Dividend and self-driving

Long-term investors have always closely watched how the company balances the near-term need to placate shareholders with the massive capital spending needed to stay competitive in the semiconductor manufacturing business.

If Intel is cutting costs and still needing to invest in chip factories to power its turnaround, analysts say it may want to reconsider its dividend. Intel spent $6 billion on dividends in 2022, but did not cut its dividend on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the company said it wants to cut $3 billion in costs for 2023 and analysts believe it wants to spend around $20 billion in capital expenditures to build out its factories.

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Gelsinger was asked about this dynamic on Thursday.

“I’d just say the board, management, we take a very disciplined approach to the capital allocation strategy and we’re going to remain committed to being very prudent around how we allocate capital for the owners and we are committed to maintaining a competitive dividend,” Gelsinger replied.

There was at least one bright spot for Intel on Thursday.

Mobileye, its self-driving subsidiary that went public during the December quarter, reported earlier in the day, showing adjusted earnings per share of 27 cents and revenue growth of 59%, to $656 million. It also forecast strong 2023 revenue of between $2.19 billion and $2.28 billion. Shares rose nearly 6% during regular trading hours Thursday.



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China’s reopening will boost these retail names, Wells Fargo says

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