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Novartis flags faster sales and profit growth for 2015

Swiss drugmaker Novartis forecast sales and profits to grow at a faster pace this year as recent drug successes and its portfolio overhaul help it weather the impact of generic competition.

The Basel-based firm on Tuesday guided for mid-single digit sales growth and for core operating income to increase at a high-single digit rate at constant exchange rates in 2015.

Novartis unveiled a transformative series of deals last year which will see it focus on a smaller number of higher-margin businesses once it concludes a $20 billion asset swap with GlaxoSmithKline in the first half.

The company hopes the restructuring as well as the recent approval of its new psoriasis drug Cosentyx - which could bring in annual sales of more than $1 billion - will help it buffer cheaper copycat competition for blood pressure medicines Diovan and Exforge.

The anticipated launch of heart failure treatment LCZ696 should also generate multi-billion-dollar revenues. Analysts expect the drug to gain approval in the United States by the middle of this year.

"Our growth prospects are strong in 2015 and with the portfolio moves we have really good growth prospects for the next five years," Chief Executive Joe Jimenez told reporters.

Still, a surge in the Swiss franc following a shock move by the Swiss central bank to unwind its policy of holding down the franc's value will create headwinds for Novartis, which generates just 2 percent of sales but has around 12-13 percent of its costs in the country.

Jimenez sought to reassure investors that the franc's surge will not derail efforts to grow margins, saying the company would take a hard look at procurement and other services that it has in Switzerland.

Excluding the impact of currency moves, net sales rose 4 percent in the fourth quarter to $14.63 billion, slightly ahead of the average forecast for $14.6 billion in a Reuters poll.

Strong sales of so-called "growth products" - drugs that have been on the market for five years or less - helped offset generic competition. Novartis expects the impact of copycat medicines to lop around $2.5 billion off sales this year.

Core net income rose 9 percent to $2.9 billion in line with forecasts.

The company said it would lift its dividend to 2.60 Swiss francs per share for 2013, compared to the 2.45 francs it paid out last year. This was below the average forecast for 2.67 francs in a Reuters poll.