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Merck Lifts Quarterly Forecast

The company keeps its full-year projection intact.


(MRK) - Get Merck & Company Inc. Report

said Tuesday that it expects first-quarter earnings per share to exceed Wall Street's estimates.

Excluding restructuring charges, the company forecast earnings of 71 cents to 75 cents a share, compared with the consensus of 64 cents from analysts polled by Thomson First Call. The analysts' forecast excludes one-time events.

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Merck said its first-quarter profit was aided by strong sales of the cholesterol-fighting drug Zocor and by the timing of certain expenses, which were lower than expected for the quarter ended March 31.

On a GAAP basis, Merck predicts earnings in the range of 61 cents to 67 cents a share. The company kept its full-year EPS prediction of $2.28 to $2.36, excluding restructuring charges, and its GAAP earnings forecast of $1.98 to $2.12. The Thomson First Call consensus is a full-year profit of $2.33 excluding one-time items.

The projections exclude the establishment of reserves for potential liabilities related to the Vioxx litigation. The company faces 9,650 personal injury suits in the U.S. and about 190 class-action claims for personal injury or economic damages.

Merck has lost one personal-injury case, which it is appealing, and it has won two other cases. Another personal-injury case, involving two plaintiffs who allege that the arthritis drug Vioxx caused their heart attacks, is being deliberated by a New Jersey state court jury.

Recently, Merck's stock was up 19 cents to $35.60.