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Earnings Show a Mixed Bag for Mass Spec in Q1 as Vendors Anticipate Release of Capital Budgets

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – With first quarter results in for major life science mass spec vendors, a mixed picture has emerged as academic, government, and pharma spending delays, particularly in the US and China, countered stronger performance in European markets.

Waters and Agilent both posted flat revenues for the quarter ended March 31, while Danaher reported a 5 percent rise, Bruker an 8 percent rise, and Thermo Fisher Scientific a 22 percent jump in revenues year over year.

In terms of life sciences mass spec, Bruker, Danaher, and Thermo Fisher all reported solid sales, with Bruker posting low double-digit growth from its CALID Group, which houses its life sciences mass spec products; Danaher's AB Sciex business reporting high single digit growth; and Thermo Fisher posting high single digit growth in its pharma and biotech business and 4 percent growth in its analytical instruments business, both driven significantly by strong mass spec sales, President and CEO Marc Casper said on an earnings call discussing the firm's earnings.

Agilent did not break out results for its life sciences mass spec business. Waters, meanwhile, posted what Douglas Berthiaume, the company's chairman, president, and CEO characterized as "weaker than expected" mass spec sales. It reported a year-over-year declined in its triple quadrupole systems as well as slow sales of its high-end QTOF mass specs.

Berthiaume attributed the triple quad slowdown to "lower demand for food analysis and environmental testing systems, especially in the Asian, Latin American, and European markets."

However, he also conceded that competition from other vendors might have played a role, as well. Last year was a big year for new triple quad releases, as the 2013 American Society of Mass Spectrometry annual meeting saw the launch of Bruker's EVOQ Elite ER triple quad and Thermo Fisher's TSQ Endura and TSQ Quantiva machines. AB Sciex launched its newest triple quad, the 6500, at ASMS 2012.

"We've seen a number of competitors' introductions in the triple quad market in the past nine to 12 months, and that probably had some effect on what's going on in the marketplace, Berthiaume said.

He added that the company planned to introduce new instrumentation of its own over the next year, including at next month's 2014 ASMS meeting.

Berthiaume also said he expected sales of the high-end mass specs to pick up in the second half of the year as academic and government funding levels in the US increase and pharma capital budgets are released.

Some of the company's competitors, however – most notably Bruker and Thermo Fisher – appeared not to suffer from these effects in Q1. Bruker President and CEO Frank Laukien, for instance, said the company saw strong academic and government demand in North America and Europe for its high-end QTOF mass specs. And Thermo Fisher's Casper noted strong sales of the company's Orbitrap Fusion instrument, noting that this system had been a growth driver in the "high-end research, academic, and biopharma" spaces.

There was broader consensus, though, on the role of Chinese budget delays affecting the government and academic markets in that country, with Waters, Agilent, and Thermo Fisher all noting the phenomenon.

Agilent President and CEO William Sullivan noted that the company's business in China was down in the mid single-digits, with Fred Strohmeier, president of the firm's Life Sciences and Diagnostics Group attributing this to slower government spending due to new anticorruption regulations and an ongoing reorganization at China's Food & Drug Administration.

Thermo Fisher's Casper likewise cited slowness in China due to delays in government funding.

Bruker's Laukien, on the other hand, said that his company's business had been little affected by Chinese budget delays.

"China is not fantastically strong for us right now, but it's reasonable," he said. "We had reasonable growth in China, but not spectacular."

Long term, the vendors generally agreed that growth prospects for China remain solid.

"We don't think that China can cut off forever their commitment to this technology," Berthiaume said. "And so that's an important part of why we think the future is better than the first quarter."

"Basically nothing has changed with the long term outlook in terms of our view on China, Casper noted.

Europe, on the other hand, was cited by all five firms as a bright spot, though in the case of Waters the region mixed high-single digit growth in pharma sales with a slowdown in academic and government spending.

Bruker noted, in particular, strong European demand for its MALDI biotyper clinical microbiology platform and its QTOF mass spec instruments.

Looking forward, vendors are anticipating the release in the second half of 2014 of the Chinese and US capital funds they missed in the first quarter of the year.

Casper, for instance, noted that Thermo Fisher expects its US academic and government customers will "begin spending money under new appropriations at around mid-year. We believe this end market will improve in the second half as funds begin to flow."

Berthiaume, likewise, said Waters anticipates increased academic, government, and pharma spending to improve sales in the coming quarters.

Agilent's Sullivan also noted "expectations for increased flows in government spending" later in the year.

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