By Sonia Amaral Rohter
Germany's Merck KGaA (MRK.XE) reported fourth-quarter results on Thursday. Here's what we watched:
REVENUE: Sales for the quarter were up 0.5% at 3.85 billion euros ($4.78 billion). Analysts had expected sales of about EUR3.8 billion in the fourth quarter, according to Vara Research's consensus forecast.
EARNINGS: Fourth-quarter net profit was EUR1.01 billion, compared with EUR269 million for the same period last year. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization before one-time items, a key figure for the company, were EUR1.01 billion, down 6.5%. According to a consensus forecast compiled by Vara Research, analysts expected adjusted Ebitda of about EUR994.9 million for the quarter.
WHAT WE WATCHED
UPDATE ON CONSUMER HEALTH: The outcome of a sale of Merck's consumer-health business remains unclear. The CEO said he hopes to close a transaction by year-end, but the annual report--which was also published Thursday--says "a disposal of the Consumer Health business within the next 12 months cannot be regarded as highly likely." The company said it didn't finish evaluating non-binding offers made in December before year-end. Based on the offers, Merck is looking at its strategic options. Analysts at Berenberg said they consider a full divestment less likely, with the annual report suggesting "a partial sale or partnership split by geography could be the more likely scenario."
MAVENCLAD AND BAVENCIO: Merck expects both the multiple sclerosis treatment Mavenclad and the cancer immunotherapy Bavencio to "contribute visibly to sales growth" this year. In 2018, Mavenclad is expected to generate sales "in the high double-digit million range," it said, while Bavencio should yield sales in the "mid double-digit million range." The company still plans to file for Mavenclad's approval in the U.S. this year. Peak sales potential outside the U.S. is between EUR500 million and EUR700 million, CEO Stefan Oschmann said, and U.S. approval should generate significant additional sales, though he declined to quantify.
PERFORMANCE MATERIALS: Weakness in liquid crystals is set to continue in 2018, dragging on the performance-materials division, Merck said. However, 2019 should be the "trough year for profitability" in performance materials, it said. "Consensus currently forecasts the trough in 2018, so this may disappoint, but an actual floor commitment should provide some solace for what is otherwise a significant area of uncertainty for the shares," Berenberg said.
R&D AND LAUNCH COSTS: Merck said both R&D and launch costs would drag on 2018 Ebitda. Underlying R&D costs for the healthcare division are budgeted above 2017, but "actual development will be subject to clinical data outcome of priority projects and prioritization decisions." The company also said preparations for Mavenclad's U.S. launch would drive marketing and selling costs.
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