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Merck Lifts Forecast

Shares rise in early trading.


(MRK) - Get Merck & Co., Inc. (MRK) Report

raised its 2007 guidance and also issued a first-quarter earnings prediction that exceeded analysts' estimates.

The New Jersey drugmaker boosted its full-year earnings forecast to $2.55 to $2.65 a share, excluding items such as restructuring charges. Last month, the company forecast a profit of $2.51 to $2.59, before items.

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Analysts polled by Thomson First Call had been expecting $2.62.

Merck didn't provide details on its optimism except to say that first-quarter earnings would be in the range of 63 cents to 67 cents, excluding items, due to "early revenue trends across the company's range of products." The Wall Street consensus for the first quarter was 60 cents a share.

The company's guidance doesn't reflect the establishment of reserves for any potential liability relating to Vioxx litigation. So far, Merck has only set aside money for defending lawsuits pertaining to its former arthritis drug.

Once items have been factored in, first quarter earnings should be 58 cents to 64 cents a share and full-year earnings will likely be $2.40 to $2.55.

In premarket trading, Merck's stock was up $1.22, or 2.8%, to $44.40.