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Merck makes 4th-quarter net profit of $78 million

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[February 23, 2010]  FRANKFURT (AP) -- German drug maker Merck KGaA said Tuesday it made a net profit in the fourth quarter, compared with a loss a year ago, as revenue rose sharply, but shares in the company slumped on a weak outlook and lowered dividend.

Merck, based in Darmstadt, said it earned euro56.7 million ($78 million) for the fourth quarter, compared with a loss of euro280 million in 2008. The year-ago figures were weighed down by one-time charges associated with its euro10.3 billion purchase of Swiss biotech company Serono SA.

HardwareRevenue for the October-December period rose nearly 6 percent to more than euro2 billion, from euro1.92 billion in 2008.

"We are presenting a financial statement for 2009 with which -- considering the overall circumstances of last year -- we can be satisfied," Karl-Ludwig Kley, the company's chief executive, said in the report.

"For 2010, it will be crucial whether the economic recovery trend remains stable. Merck is assuming that the group total revenues should increase by 3 to 7 percent and that the operating result could grow by 20 to 30 percent."

Merck makes the cancer drug Erbitux and multiple sclerosis treatment Rebif. The company also produces liquid crystal displays for televisions and computer monitors.

Analysts at Bernstein said some of the 2010 guidance from the company is well below consensus despite the "decent" results for 2009 revenue.

"Revenues were solid, but core operating profit and core earnings per share missed consensus. Core operating profit guidance for 2010 is some way below consensus expectations. The company has also cut its proposed dividend from euro1.50 per share to euro1.00. The reasons for this are unclear," Bernstein said in a note to clients.

The news sent Merck shares 6.5 percent lower to euro60.26 in Frankfurt early afternoon trading, making the stock the biggest decliner on the DAX-30 index of blue chips.

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For the full year, Merck earned euro366 million in net income, nearly unchanged from 2008. Revenue for 2009 was 2 percent higher at euro7.8 billion from euro7.6 billion in 2008. The company said it saw charges of euro28 million in 2009 relating to the withdrawal from the psoriasis drug Raptiva, while the company saw an euro11 million gain from the divestment of a Brazilian unit of its Performance Life Science Chemical division.

In terms of divisions, the company said its Serono pharmaceutical division saw a 6.6 percent increase in 2009 revenue to euro5.3 billion despite the withdrawal of Raptiva. It said the growth was mainly attributable to sales of Rebif and Erbitux. Diabetic drugs' and consumer health care sales also improved.

Merck said liquid crystal sales also improved after a deep lull for the sector in the first quarter of 2009. Merck said despite liquid crystal sales falling 17 percent in 2009 to euro733 million, the division's sales broke the euro200 million mark in the third quarter for the first time in a year.


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[Associated Press; By GEORGE FREY]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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