The old wives' tale that you will catch a cold if you don't bundle up was formally laid to rest last week when Johnson & Johnson released its stellar first-quarter earnings.

There it was in the words of Dominic Caruso, J&J's chief financial officer: "Despite the severe weather conditions, this was actually a very weak cold and flu season."

In all, J&J's consumer division, which runs hot when consumers run fevers, was down 0.6 percent worldwide. That was one of the few blemishes on an otherwise rosy picture of financial health.

The headline, of course, was the bump in the pharmaceutical giant's earnings. Overall, J&J reported earnings of $4.7 billion in the first quarter, a 35.2 percent increase over the same period in 2013. That translated into adjusted net earnings of $4.4 billion and adjusted net earnings per share of $1.54. That was up from $1.44 a year ago.

Credit for that success went largely to an alphabet soup of pharmaceutical offerings that expose the power of that segment in an industry where a single blockbuster can carry a company for years.

The pharmaceutical division, which had $7.5 billion in worldwide net sales, more than made up for any disappointments or sluggishness among the company's medical-device and surgical divisions.

A top performer for the quarter was Olysio, which is used to treat Hepatitis C, a viral disease infecting an estimated 3.2 million Americans.

J&J reported $354 million in sales from Olysio, which can cost a patient $66,000 for standard 12-week regimen. It is being prescribed in combination with Sovaldi, a new drug from Gilead Sciences.

"Yes, it's done better than we expected," Caruso said in the post-earnings conference call when asked about Olysio. "It's primarily due to the fact that the Liver Society issued guidelines in January recommending the use of Olysio, along with the product from Gilead, Sovaldi. That has been adopted by the community - by the medical community - as a standard of care."

Another winner was Zytiga, used to treat prostate cancer. Sales were up 49 percent for the quarter. The drug holds about 34 percent of its market, according to Louise Mehrotra, vice president for investor relations.

A third compound, Stelara, used to treat autoimmune diseases like psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, had an increase of 32 percent in sales, to $456 million.

The company, based in New Brunswick, N.J., and with multiple divisions operating in Pennsylvania, had lackluster results when it came to medical devices and joint-replacement products.

Caruso again laid partial blame on the weather. It seems people tend to delay having their hips or knees replaced when the streets are filled with snow.

Finally, J&J now has nearly $30 billion in cash. Could a share buyback or acquisition be in the offing?

"No change in the way we look at it," Caruso said before outlining how the company weighs such matters. Beyond that: "Nothing else to report."

chepp@phillynews.com

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