Merck Beats Estimates, Affirms Forecast

Shares rise 2.5% in early trading.
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Updated from 8:33 a.m. EDT

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

exceeded analysts' earnings estimates for the first quarter and affirmed its forecast for 2008.

The New Jersey-based drugmaker said sales for the quarter rose 1% from a year earlier to $5.82 billion, but that fell short of the consensus estimate of $6.11 billion. Merck earned $3.30 billion, or $1.52 a share, up from last year's $1.70 billion and 78 cents a share.

Excluding a $1.4 billion net after-tax gain from a distribution received from the

AstraZeneca

(AZN) - Get Report

limited partnership and restructuring charges, Merck would have earned 89 cents in the quarter, 3 cents ahead of expectations.

Looking ahead, Merck still expects to earn $3.28 to $3.38 a share, before items, this year. Wall Street is calling for $3.28.

Shares of Merck were little changed, down 1 cent at $39.75.

"Our reaffirmation of 2008 financial guidance shows that Merck has the right strategy in place to manage through difficult industry dynamics and unexpected challenges," said Richard Clark, the company's chairman, president and CEO, in a prepared statement. "Merck posted solid first-quarter results despite the loss of patent protection for Fosamax, as well as a decline in expected sales from our Merck

and

Schering-Plough

(SGP)

joint venture."

The effectiveness of the companies' cholesterol drugs Vytorin and Zetia has been called into question recently, leading to worries about how strong revenue from the products will be going forward.

Elsewhere in the group,

Eli Lilly

(LLY) - Get Report

fell short of analysts' first-quarter expectations, while

Novartis

(NVS) - Get Report

reported an increase in its quarterly profits.

Later this week,

GlaxoSmithKline

(GSK) - Get Report

,

Bristol-Myers Squibb

(BMY) - Get Report

and AstraZeneca are expected to issue their results.

This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.com.