Merck tops Street 2Q forecasts despite lower sales, profit

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Merck & Co.'s second-quarter profit plunged by two-thirds, hammered by the sale of its consumer business, unfavorable currency exchange rates, lower sales of some key drugs and hefty one-time charges.

However, the world's fifth-biggest drugmaker by revenue beat modest Wall Street expectations and raised its full-year profit forecast by a dime per share.

Focusing on the future, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier said introductions of some new products were going well and drugs in development show great promise.

"We're investing resources to grow our strongest brands and to support the most promising assets in our pipeline, while at the same time lowering our overall cost base," he told analysts during a conference call.

The Kenilworth, New Jersey-based company noted experimental hepatitis C combination pill grazoprevir/elbasvir is now being reviewed by regulators in the U.S. and European Union. Hepatitis C is now one of the hottest areas in medicine, with a new generation of drugs now curing nearly all patients in just a few months — and bringing in billions of dollars a year.

Meanwhile, Merck's crucial new cancer drug Keytruda, already approved in the U.S. for advanced lung melanoma, is being reviewed for that use in Europe and for treatment of advanced non-small-cell lung cancer in the U.S.

Merck also announced Tuesday that it's signed an agreement to buy cCAM Biotherapeutics, a developer of cancer immunotherapy treatments, for up to $605 million, hinged on some of its drugs getting approved and meeting sales milestones. Keytruda also is in that growing new class of drugs, which use different mechanisms to boost the immune stystem and help it fight cancer.

Merck, which makes the Gardasil cancer vaccine and diabetes pill Januvia, said Tuesday that net income was $687 million, or 24 cents per share. That's down from $2 billion, or 68 cents per share, in 2014's second quarter.

Excluding charges totaling $1.75 billion, or 62 cents per share, Merck said adjusted earnings came to $2.4 billion, or 86 cents per share. The average estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 80 cents per share.

Among its woes in the quarter, Merck cited a 7 percent drop in revenue due to last year's sale of its Claritin allergy pills, Coppertone Sun care line and other consumer products to Bayer AG; its $715 million foreign exchange loss related to re-evaluation of its assets in Venezuela; and the strong dollar reducing the value of sales, which are made in local currencies, by 7 percent.

Total revenue fell 11 percent to $9.8 billion, though prescription drug sales fell only 6 percent. Six analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $9.71 billion.

Sales of top product Januvia edged up 1 percent to $1.6 billion, while sales rose 4 percent to $427 million for Gardasil, which protects against sexually transmitted cancers, and 10 percent to a total of $358 million for all its other vaccines. But sales dropped for cholesterol drugs Zetia and Vytorin, HIV drug Isentress and immune disorder drug Remicade, due to competition and other factors.

Merck said it now expects full-year earnings in the range of $3.45 to $3.55, excluding one-time items. That's up from its April forecast of $3.35 to $3.48 per share. It forecast full-year revenue in the range of $38.6 billion to $39.8 billion.


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