Swine flu fears pushed up demand for Meridian Bioscience Inc.’s (NSDQ:VIVO) rapid flu tests a year ago, but the absence of those concerns contributed to a 32 percent decline in the diagnostic test maker’s first-quarter earnings for fiscal 2011.
It marked the fourth consecutive quarter of declining year-over-year earnings for the West Chester, Ohio, company. The company reported net earnings of $6 million or 16 cents per diluted share.
That fell below analysts’ expectations of 19 cents per diluted share.
Sales also dropped — but not as severely — down 12 percent to $37.3 million, according to the company.
Nonetheless, the company maintained that its financial condition is “sound” and reaffirmed its previous earnings guidance. Meridian projects fiscal 2011 sales to be in the range of $165 million to $170 million and per share diluted earnings to be between 77 cents and 82 cents, according to the statement.
But swine flu was on CEO John Kraeutler’s mind.
“With sales of the year-ago period heavily impacted by high swine-flu-driven demand for our rapid flu tests, and very limited flu incidence and related sales in the first fiscal quarter of 2011, assessments based upon the comparative financial results are challenging,” he said.
Overall, sales dropped by $5.2 million, with a $9 million decrease in sales of upper respiratory tests — including swine flu diagnostics — partially offset by a $3.4 million increase from Meridian’s July 2010 acquisition of Bioline, a maker of molecular biology reagents.
Still, there were bright spots in Meridian’s numbers, notably from the company’s first molecular test ’ illumigene C. difficile. The company has 200 customers for the test, up from 125 in November. C. difficile is a bacterium that can cause diarrhea and, in severe cases, a life-threatening inflammation of the colon. Meridian received FDA clearance to begin marketing the illumigene test in July.
Meridian also reported an 11 percent increase in sales of tests for H. pylori, a bacterium that can lead to ulcers and stomach cancer.
“Profitability and efficiency measures are favorable and our main challenge is to increase sales,” said William Motto, executive chairman of Meridian’s board.