WALTHAM — While it posted record operating profits of $1.4 billion and sales of $12.5 billion last year, Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. will have to work harder to do better in 2013, its chief executive Marc N. Casper, said Friday.
Casper cited expected slower growth in the US economy and the prospect of automatic federal spending cuts, which would hurt medical research labs that are major Thermo Fisher customers. Given those headwinds, the maker of life sciences tools and specialty diagnostics will have to expand its markets and take business from rivals to continue getting bigger, he said.
“We’re anticipating a growing economy, but a slower growing economy than 2012,” Casper said. “If the US government has a successful budget resolution, that would help. But we’re planning on a more challenging environment and successfully navigating it.”
His outlook reflects a less buoyant and more sober attitude that has taken hold in the life sciences sector. Even the most successful players — such as Waltham-based Thermo Fisher — are bracing for tougher sales calls to financially strapped hospitals, biopharmaceutical companies, academic medical laboratories, industrial companies, and other customers.
Shares of Thermo Fisher rose 3.6 percent Friday to a record high of $74.79, a gain of $2.65 on the New York Stock Exchange, as investors applauded the company’s financial report.
Thermo Fisher, which has about 39,000 employees worldwide, including nearly 1,500 in Massachusetts, was formed in 2006 through the $10.6 billion merger of Thermo Electron Corp. and Fisher Scientific International Inc. Since Casper became chief executive in 2009, the company has increased its research spending, expanded aggressively into emerging markets, and bought companies in niche fields ranging from allergy diagnostics to chromatography equipment used for drug manufacturing and testing for drinking water contaminants.
The company Thursday reported its net earnings climbed to $376.4 million, or $1.04 per share, in the fourth quarter, up from $288.9 million, or 77 cents per share, in the corresponding period a year before. Fourth-quarter sales rose 6 percent to a record $3.2 billion.
Both the quarterly profits and sales beat expectations as Thermo Fisher performed impressively across all its business segments, analysts Peter Lawson and Eric Criscuolo of investment bank Mizuho Securities USA Inc. in New York, wrote in a note to investors. But they warned the company could be tripped up this year by a number of factors, including “macroeconomic trends” and “a relatively limited presence in high growth markets such as genomics.”
Among other rivals in the United States and abroad, Thermo Fisher’s competitors include PerkinElmer Inc., also based in Waltham, and Waters Corp. in Milford.
Casper said his company’s goal this year is to continue helping its customers lower costs, improve efficiency, and manage the complexity of their operations. As an example, he said, Thermo Fisher is expanding a service that helps drug companies manage the logistics of clinical trials by distributing their medicines worldwide and making sure patients get what they need.
“You come to work every day trying to make the customer successful,” he said.
The company’s broad line of scientific instruments and testing equipment — ranging from the mass spectrometers seen on the “CSI” television shows to the hand-held analysis devices used near the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan — can be found in the labs of many large industrial sites, pharmaceutical companies, and academic medical centers worldwide.
Casper said there is room for Thermo Fisher to increase its penetration in many labs. He also said he never likes to tour a lab that doesn’t use the company’s products.
When that happens, he said, “It’s usually an unhappy moment for our commercial team.”