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By Leroy Leo and Carl O'Donnell
(Reuters) -Abbott Laboratories on Wednesday beat quarterly profit and sales estimates, aided by robust sales of COVID-19 test kits and strong demand for its diagnostics products, but forecast lower-than-expected COVID-19 testing sales in 2022 due to uncertainties around the future of the pandemic.
The U.S. medical device maker traded down as much as 2.7% Wednesday morning following its earnings release.
Abbott said it expects $2.5 billion in sales of COVID-19 test kits in the early part of this year. The company will update its test kit estimates on a quarterly basis.
"COVID testing is going to still be around," said Chief Executive Officer Robert Ford during an investor call. "The question is just how does it evolve over the next nine to 12 months."
Test makers have grappled with choppy demand in the past few quarters as COVID infections have surged and plateaued in the United States, making it difficult to predict whether demand will hold up for the long term.
Analysts were expecting Abbott to be conservative with its COVID test forecast due to uncertainties around the pandemic.
The U.S. government in September announced plans to acquire billions of dollars worth of COVID rapid tests from manufacturers including Abbott in a bid to boost supplies around the country. [L1N2R228S]
Abbott said it would be closely looking at acquisition opportunities in medical devices and diagnostics tools this year.
The Illinois-based company posted $2.3 billion in COVID test sales for the fourth quarter, including $2.1 billion in rapid tests. The overall COVID test sales were marginally lower than the $2.4 billion it reported a year ago.
The company had previously expected COVID test-related sales to be between $1.0 billion and $1.4 billion in the quarter.
Abbott forecast adjusted earnings from continuing operations of at least $4.70 per share for the year, below analysts' estimates of $4.78.
Fourth-quarter sales in Abbott's diagnostics business were $4.47 billion, beating analysts' estimates of $3.46 billion.
On an adjusted basis, Abbott earned $1.32 per share, beating estimates of $1.21, according to Refinitiv IBES data.
Total sales were $11.5 billion, higher than the $10.7 billion estimated by analysts.
(Reporting by Leroy Leo and Dania Nadeem in Bengaluru and Carl O'Donnell in New York; Editing by Maju Samuel and Bernard Orr)