US pharma group Abbott Laboratories saw sales from its nutrition business – which includes infant formula – fall in 2016, with the decline accelerating in the fourth quarter amid challenges in China and Saudi Arabia.

The company booked a 1.1% decrease in sales from its nutrition arm to US$6.9bn in 2016. Exchange rates hit the results; on an operational basis, which excludes fluctuations in currency, Abbott’s nutrition sales increased 1.2%.

Abbott’s nutrition arm saw sales in the US rise 3.5% in 2016 but international sales slid 4.3%, dampened by exchange rates. On an operational basis, Abbott’s international nutrition sales dipped 0.5% in 2016 year-on-year.

On a reported basis, sales from Abbott’s paediatric nutrition unit, which includes the Similac infant formula brand, fell 2.2% to $3.88bn in 2016. Stripping out the impact of exchange rates from the numbers, the division’s sales were flat year-on-year.

The strength of Abbott’s paediatric nutrition business in 2016 was in the US. The group’s domestic paediatric nutrition sales climbed 5.3% in 2016. However, international sales were down 7.2%, or by 3.5% when excluding currency.

In the fourth quarter, Abbott’s total nutrition sales fell 3.7%, or by 2.6% excluding currency, with falling sales overseas offsetting growth in the US. International nutrition sales dropped 8.1% in the fourth quarter, or by 6.3% when stripping out the impact of exchange rates. In the US, Abbott’s nutrition sales increased 2.7% in the fourth quarter. 

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Abbott’s paediatric nutrition arm reported a 5.4% decline in fourth-quarter sales – or a 4.3% fall excluding currency.

On a reported basis, Abbott’s international paediatric nutrition sales dropped 13.1% in the fourth quarter. Excluding currency, sales were down 11.2%.

The company said “challenging market conditions” in China and “market softness” in Saudi Arabia offset “continued strong performance in Latin America and south-east Asia”. 

However, Abbott’s US paediatric nutrition sales climbed 6.2% in the fourth quarter.