Schering-Plough Beats Earnings Forecasts By Wide Margin

Schering-Plough reported strong first-quarter results, surpassing consensus estimates by a wide margin due to strong sales of cholesterol drugs and allergy treatments.

Schering-Plough on Thursday morning announced first-quarter earnings growth of 55%, beating analysts' estimates on sharply higher sales of its prescription drugs, including two cholesterol fighters sold in partnership with Merck .

Profit rose 55% to $543 million, or 36 cents a share, from $350 million, or 24 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

Excluding one-time items, the Kenilworth, N.J.-based pharmaceutical company reported earnings of 42 cents a share. Analysts expected Schering-Plough to report 29 cents a share, according to Thomson Financial.

Sales in the period jumped 17% over last year to $3.0 billion before revenue from cholesterol drugs Vytorin and Zetia, which the drugmaker markets with Merck. Sales would have jumped 21% in the period including the co-marketed medicines.

Sales of allergy drugs Nasonex and Clarinex both came in above Wall Street estimates. The drugmaker also got a boost from arthritis treatment Remicade, which jumped 34% to $373 million in the first quarter. Schering-Plough sells Remicade outside of the U.S. and Japan under license from Johnson & Johnson.

"This was largely a quality revenue-driven beat," said Tim Anderson, pharma analyst with Prudential Equity Group. "The 'whisper' was that Schering-Plough could beat by a significant margin, and they did. Other drug companies have also beat thus far this quarter, and those that have yet to report will probably beat as well."