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Merck: Its Ups And Downs

Merck
AP
Merck

I usually cover pharma earnings from my desk at CNBC HQ in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. But because Merck made a rare offer to interview its Chairman and CEO Dick Clark exclusively this morning I'm out at Merck's idyllic HQ campus in central NJ.

The Dow component's earnings report gave us the first look at the impact of the Vytorin-Zetia study on the sales of those cholesterol drugs. Revenue fell $300 million sequentially. And MRK says it expects its equity income from the V-Z joint venture with Schering-Plough to go down $700 million this year. Nonetheless, Merck is reaffirming its 2008 guidance for $3.28-$3.38 earnings per share. The Street's at the bottom of that range. In recent years Merck has often raised guidance in its quarterly reports. Not this time.

That's not just because of V-Z. Sales of the asthma-allergy drug Singulair also dropped sequentially by $100 million. The FDA's investigating whether the mega-blockbuster drug might cause people have suicidal behavior. But on the conference call Merck officials said there's also been a late start to the spring allergy season.

On the plus side, on the call the company also forecast that sales of the cervical cancer vaccine Gardisil could top two billion (not million) bucks this year. And that's apparently not including potential revenue from the shots for older women.

The FDA could approve it for that population later this year, but in the current unpredictable regulatory environment Merck says it ain't gonna count its chickens before they hatch. By the end of this year the company also plans to file for FDA approval of Gardasil for young men and boys.

The nearly $400 million in first-quarter Gardasil sales may prove Merck was right when it said a dip in the vaccine's revenue in Q4 was due to back-to-school seasonality. Because the product's so new, some investors were worried. It now appears they can rest assured that barring any surprises that Gardasil is gonna be a big growth driver.

Still, Merck's stock has lost, by one analyst's estimate, about $40 billion in market cap in recent months. That's largely because of the V-Z controversy.

And speaking of that, I'll have another exclusive interview with the head of the other JV partner, SGP CEO Fred Hassan after his company reports earnings Wednesday. It'll be on "Squawk on the Street." But the earnings could be a bit of a non-event. With the V-Z sales out today, investors have got their number.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com