Bristol-Myers to Settle Drug-Pricing Probe for $499 Million

Bristol-Myers Squibb said it agreed to pay $499 million to settle federal investigations into questionable drug pricing and marketing practices, and lowered its full-year outlook to reflect the charges.

The company entered an agreement in principle with the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts to pay the settlement and avoid civil and criminal charges. Bristol-Myers will also enter a corporate integrity agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services. The agreement must still get final approval from the Justice Department.

As a result of the settlement, Bristol-Myers increased its reserves for the probe by $353 million, to a total of $499 million. Separately, the company will take a charge of $220 million for debt restructuring in the fourth quarter.

With the charges, the company lowered its full-year 2006 estimate for earnings per share from continuing operations to a range of 72 cents to 77 cents, from 97 cents to $1.02. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial expect earnings per share of $1.04.

The company reiterated its 2006 earnings outlook of $1.02 to $1.07 per share, excluding charges.

The agreement is the latest in deals cuts with the government. In June 2005, the company settled federal charges for an accounting scandal costing the company $800 million, and was placed under the observation of a federal monitor until 2007.

The same monitor recommended in September that the company fire chief executive Pete Dolan after a failed agreement to keep a lower-priced generic version of the best selling blood thinner Plavix off the market that had attracted the interest of federal investigators. Dolan stepped down the next day.

According to CNBC's David Faber, bankers say Bristol-Myers could be an acquisition target next year now that this settlement has occurred and once the trial of the generic version of blood-thinner Plavix begins in January.