Novartis earnings narrowly miss expectations, shares down 2%

  • Fourth-quarter core operating profit rose to $3.39 billion, the company said on Wednesday, compared to the average $3.44 billion in a poll of analysts by Reuters.
  • Sales rose to $13.3 billion, matching the average forecast in the poll.

Swiss drugmaker Novartis reported slightly weaker-than-expected quarterly earnings on Wednesday, prompting shares to fall more than 2 percent shortly after the opening bell.

Fourth-quarter core operating profit rose to $3.39 billion, the company said on Wednesday, compared to the average $3.44 billion in a poll of analysts by Reuters. Sales rose to $13.3 billion, matching the average forecast in the poll.

Novartis said sales of its Entresto heart failure medicine accelerated along with revenue from its psoriasis-and-arthritis blockbuster Cosentyx.

The company also said it expects to see mid-single-digit sales growth from its core businesses in 2019. It comes as the firm sheds its Alcon eye-care unit and U.S. generics pills business to focus on newer high-tech drugs.

"Really where I want the markets to focus is our new focused medicines company. That's why we did almost $50 billion in transactions last year, and our planned transactions over the course of this year, to transform the company," Vas Narasimhan, chief executive of Novartis, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Wednesday.

"When you look at that guidance we are really expecting mid-single-digits sales growth and mid-to-high-single-digit core operating income growth," he added.

'Limited price increases'

For all of 2018, Novartis booked net profit of $12.6 billion, up 64 percent as it made gains on the sale of an over-the-counter medicines joint venture to GlaxoSmithKline to focus on newer, costly drugs including gene therapy and nuclear medicine targeting cancer.

Full-year sales rose 5 percent to $51.9 billion.

When asked whether Novartis would consider raising prices in the U.S. over the coming months, Narasimhan replied: "We are in a situation where we do take limited price increases where we think it is defendable and appropriate, but most of those price increases fall back into rebates."

"And I think what we need to look at now is how do we enable those rebates to reduce patient out-of-pocket costs in the system," he added.

Novartis, a Swiss drugmaker that boasts a $216 billion market cap, has been reworking its portfolio in recent months, selling off non-core assets like its generic drug segment and spinning off its soon-to-be former subsidiary Alcon, a catch-all eye-care business.

The pharmaceutical giant has also made two key acquisitions related to cancer treatment: a $3.9 billion deal for French radiopharmaceutical specialist Advanced Accelerator Applications in 2017 and its $2.1 billion purchase of U.S.-based biopharmaceutical Endocyte last year.

"We will continue to look at bolt-on acquisitions in every one of these areas over the coming years," Narasimhan said.

—Reuters contributed to this article.