AstraZeneca Rises After Lifting 2008 Outlook

Drugmaker AstraZeneca, enjoying a favorable tailwind from currencies, lifted its full-year earnings forecast on Thursday as second-quarter results came in ahead of expectations.

A 9 percent increase in sales and 7 percent in "core" earnings per share (EPS) in the three months to end-June was helped by a weak dollar, the group's reporting currency.

Cholesterol fighter Crestor, schizophrenia drug Seroquel and Symbicort for asthma were key drivers, offsetting slowing revenues from top-seller Nexium, for acid reflux, which is suffering price competition from cheaper rivals.

For the full year, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said it now expected core EPS of between $4.60 and $4.90, against $4.45-4.75 anticipated previously.

Many analyst had expected the raised outlook, which followed a upgrade in April.

Reported pretax profit in the quarter rose 14 percent to $2.28 billion on sales of $7.96 billion, equivalent to core EPS of $1.25 versus analysts' expectations of $1.13.

"Core" earnings exclude restructuring costs and charges related to last year's acquisition of MedImmune.

AstraZeneca shares trade on around 10 times forecast 2009 earnings -- below British rival GlaxoSmithKline on 11.5 times -- reflecting investor concern about the company's relatively thin late-stage drug pipeline.

The stock has rallied around a third since March, however, as it has seen off immediate generic threats to both Nexium and Seroquel.