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said first-quarter earnings will be well above estimates, thanks to strong revenue, cost management and favorable currency translation.

The Whitehouse Station, N.J., drug giant expects to earn 62 cents a share in the quarter, excluding any potential liability reserve related to the Vioxx debacle. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had been forecasting earnings of 56 cents a share in the period.

Merck said product sales in the quarter were in line with expectations. Analysts are forecasting revenue in the quarter of $5.21 billion.

The company cited "ongoing cost management, the favorable impact of foreign exchange and overall revenue performance" for the higher guidance. Merck also reaffirmed its previously announced 2005 full-year EPS guidance of $2.42 to $2.52. The Thomson First Call consensus is $2.47 a share.

Merck shares were recently up 60 cents, or 1.8%, to $34.41.