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Pfizer Takes a Flogging

Updated from 12:37 p.m. EDT

Pfizer (PFE) saw more than $14 billion lopped off its market cap Thursday after the drugmaker offered disheartening full-year earnings guidance and withdrew its estimates for the next two years.

By late afternoon, the stock was down $1.92, or 8%, to $22.05 in heavy trading, having fallen as low as $21.90. More than 95 million shares had been traded, easily surpassing the average daily volume of 24 million shares for a full session.

Pfizer said it now expects full-year earnings, excluding one-time items, to be in a range of $1.92 to $1.94 a share, down from its previous prediction of $1.98. Analysts polled by Thomson First Call also had been expecting $1.98 for the year.

Shareholder sentiment soured further when the company said it was evaluating its financial prospects for 2006 and 2007 "in light of current and anticipated business conditions and are withdrawing our prior guidance for those years at this time." New guidance will be issued early next year.

In July, Pfizer predicted double-digit earnings per share growth in 2006 and an even greater improvement in 2007.

Tempering Revenue

Pfizer also reported that third-quarter earnings fell sharply from a year ago, weighed down by merger charges. Backing those out, the drug company's earnings topped estimates, but the shares slid on particularly bad fourth-quarter guidance.

The company earned $1.59 billion, or 22 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with $3.34 billion, or 44 cents a share, a year ago. The latest quarter included a charge of $1.96 billion related to merger accounting plus a hodgepodge of other items related to writedowns and restructuring.

Adjusted for everything, Pfizer earned 51 cents a share in the quarter, down 7% from the comparable year-ago number but still 3 cents ahead of the Thomson First Call consensus. Revenue fell 5% from a year ago to $12.19 billion, slightly below the $12.52 billion consensus.

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