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Wall Street Boos Schering-Plough's News

Updated from 3:47 p.m. EDT

Standard & Poor's said Friday that Schering-Plough's (SGP) new prescription for fiscal discipline wasn't enough to sway the ratings agency from its recent downgrade of corporate debt or its negative outlook on the company.

S&P's comments, along with an assortment of boos from Wall Street analysts, sent Schering-Plough's stock down 9.2%, or $1.52, to close at $14.96. The stock had fallen as low as $14.16.

Schering-Plough announced late Thursday a series of cost-cutting and money-saving moves that included reducing the quarterly dividend to 5.5 cents from 17 cents; accelerating and expanding by an indeterminate amount the $200 million a year savings goal announced in July; eliminating bonuses and profit sharing at least for this year; encouraging 1,000 U.S. workers to take early retirement; and freezing employee merit wages through 2004.

"These are painful actions but they are necessary," Fred Hassan, the chairman and CEO, said in a Thursday message to employees regarding the actions on bonuses and raises. "Our shareowners would not accept anything less."

Shareholders were as surprised as analysts, who were caught off guard when the company said 2004's earnings per share would be lower than the EPS in 2003. The company also said that the second half of 2003 EPS would be lower than the first half EPS for 2003. "More earnings quicksand," said a Friday report from J.P. Morgan. "Another earnings bombshell."

Consensus estimates compiled by Thomson First Call pegged 2004's EPS at 59 cents and 2003's EPS at 46 cents. For the first six months of 2003, Schering-Plough earned 24 cents a share.

Much of the company's problem has been caused by that dramatic drop in prescription Claritin sales as the antihistamine lost patent protection and was converted to nonprescription status in the U.S. late last year; but the company also faces competitive pressure and weakening sales for its hepatitis drugs.

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