Updated from 8:38 a.m. EST

Drug giant Merck ( MRK) raised its earnings guidance for 2003 Thursday and said the current year is going as expected. Rival Eli Lilly ( LLY) also backed its 2002 guidance.

Merck, of Whitehouse Station, N.J., said 2003 earnings will be between $3.40 and $3.47 a share, better than analysts' current forecast of $3.37 as compiled by First Call on double-digit earnings growth in its core pharmaceuticals operations. It expects 2002 earnings flat with 2001's $3.14.

The company said it still plans on spinning off its Medco Health Solutions pharmacy benefits unit by mid-2003, after failing to do earlier this year. Merck's guidance for 2003 assumes a full year of income from Medco. If the separation does occur, Merck said it would adjust its 2003 forecast appropriately.

Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly affirmed fourth-quarter earnings guidance of 68 cents to 70 cents and 2002 earnings guidance of $2.55 to $2.57 a share.

For full-year 2003, the company said that barring unusual items, including penalties related to manufacturing issues, its "goal is to deliver some earnings growth in 2003." Analysts polled by Thomson First Call expect Lilly to post earnings in a range of 66 cents to 70 cents per share in the fourth quarter, $2.55 in 2002 and $2.65 in 2003.

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