Updated from 8:12 a.m. EDT

Schering-Plough ( SGP) on Thursday reported a loss for the first quarter while Wall Street was looking for a tiny gain.

The Kenilworth, N.J.-based drug company said it lost $73 million, or 5 cents a share, on revenue of $1.96 billion. The consensus of analysts polled by Thomson First Call was expecting a profit of $30.9 million, or 1 cent a share, on sales of $1.92 billion. As befits a company in financial difficulty, analysts' predictions for the quarter ranged from a loss of 6 cents share to a gain of 10 cents a share.

The first quarter marked the third consecutive earnings period that Schering-Plough had fallen below Wall Street expectations.

For the same period last year, the company earned $173 million, or 12 cents a share, on revenue of $2.08 billion.

The first quarter's results "reflect the serious challenges facing the company," said Fred Hassan, the company's new chairman and CEO. "As we've said previously, 2004 will be a year of difficult financial comparisons."

Hassan reiterated his belief that the cholesterol drug Vytorin, now under review by the Food and Drug Administration, will be launched in the second half of the year. Vytorin is a combination of Zetia, made by Schering-Plough, and Zocor, made by Merck ( MRK). Vytorin, which has been approved for sale in Mexico and Germany, is being marketed by both companies.

Shares of Schering-Plough were up recently 20 cents, or 1.2%, to $17.26.

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