Johnson & Johnsons intraday plunge over asbestos report wipes out $45 bn

A container of Johnson's baby powder made by Johnson & Johnson

A container of Johnson's baby powder made by Johnson & Johnson

The report by the Reuters news service has sent company shares into a tailspin, suffering their worst sell-off in 16 years. Bloomberg reported earlier this week that the company was willing to pay more than $400 million to settle about 3,300 of the 10,000 suits targeting its Pinnacle line of hip-replacement devices, citing people familiar with the matter.

The news agency said it showed the company, established in 1886, know of the positive tests, and that senior executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers anxious about how to address the problem, while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public.

Talc is the main ingredient in Johnson's Baby Powder.

Reuters' report also showed the company had commissioned and paid for studies conducted on its Baby Powder franchise and hired a ghost writer to redraft the article that presented the findings in a journal. But in many instances, J&J has been able to overturn the verdicts on appeal.

J&J vice president Ernie Knewitz told Reuters that plaintiffs' attorneys are "out for personal financial gain" and are "distorting historical documents and intentionally creating confusion in the courtroom and in the media".

Johnson & Johnson has been faced thousands of lawsuits claiming that exposure to their products raised the risk of cancer for their customers.

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Shares were last down 9 per cent at US$134.43, also pulling down the broader S&P 500 healthcare index.

The company said Friday there were rigorous tests showing the talc did not contain the cancer-causing mineral.

The report claimed that the company knew that some tests of their raw talc and finished powder showed traces of asbestos. In a major setback to the company, St. Louis jury in July had awarded almost $4.7 billion in total damages to 22 women and their families after they claimed asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer in the first case against the company that focused on asbestos in the powder.

A new report alleges that Johnson & Johnson knew about instances of its talc powder testing positive for asbestos, but failed to disclose the information.

The decline in shares wiped off about $24bn from the company's market capitalisation. To be sure, Bloomberg Intelligence litigation analysts Aude Gerspacher and Holly Froum estimate that the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company could be on the hook for as much as $10-20 billion in settlements from an estimated 11,000 pending talc cases.

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