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UPDATE 1-South African drugmaker Aspen expects coronavirus impact

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JOHANNESBURG, March 5 (Reuters) - South African drugmaker Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd reported a small rise in earnings in the second half of 2019 on Thursday and said the coronavirus outbreak would inevitably have an impact on its performance.

Aspen said its manufacturing unit benefited from the restart of heparin sales to third parties, boosting normalised headline earnings per share (NHEPS) from continuing operations to 707 cents from a restated 702.4 a year earlier. NHEPS also got a lift from lower net financing costs.

The drugmaker, which is nearly 170 years old and has a presence in about 56 countries, said coronavirus had resulted in its Chinese commercial team being largely inactive since February and this would inevitably impact performance.

Revenue from continuing operations increased by 3% to 18.4 billion rand.

Aspen's commercial pharma business, which comprises regional brands such as the oncology portfolio and sterile focus brands, boosted revenue by 2% to 15.2 billion rand, supported by 6% revenue growth in regional brands.

While manufacturing revenue rose 6% to 3.2 billion rand, supported by the resumption of commercial sales of blood-thinner heparin, which added 273 million rand of sales.

Aspen had suspended heparin sales to third parties due to limited global availability as a result of the outbreak of African swine fever in China, the world's biggest pork producer.

The drugmaker also lowered its debt to 37.9 billion rand from 39 billion rand. The firm said its leverage ratio, a measure of a firms ability to meet its financial obligations, came in at 3.5x against a covenant threshold of 4.0x.

Investors have been concerned about Aspen's debt in the last two years after levels moved close to breaching debt covenants. (Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and David Clarke)