Updated from 8:14 a.m. ESTMerck ( MRK) said Tuesday that it had taken a charge of $604 million during the fourth quarter of 2004 as a reserve to cover litigation expenses related to the withdrawal of Vioxx from the market on Sept. 30. Merck said the reserve covers future litigation expenses. The company, adding that the total reserve related to litigation expenses is now $675 million, however, said the reserve is unrelated to potential liabilities emanating from lawsuits against the company in connection with Vioxx. The litigation news accompanied Merck's release of its fourth-quarter financial results, in which the company reported a profit of $1.1 billion, or 50 cents a share, on revenue of $5.75 billion. The consensus view of analysts polled by Thomson First Call was a profit of $1.12 billion, or 50 cents a share, on revenue of $5.32 billion. For the same period in 2003, Merck earned $1.4 billion, or 63 cents a share, on revenue of $5.63 billion. For fiscal 2004, Merck earned $5.81 billion, or $2.61 a share, on revenue of $22.94 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson First Call had been predicting earnings of $5.85 billion, or $2.62 a share, on revenue of $22.54 billion. Merck added that it expected first-quarter 2005 earnings per share to be in the range of 54 cents to 58 cents and that full-year 2005 EPS would be in the range of $2.42 to $2.52. Last month, the company offered financial guidance of $2.42 to $2.52 for 2005. The average estimate among Wall Street analysts was for a first-quarter 2005 EPS of 56 cents and $2.46 for fiscal 2005. Despite the shadow of Vioxx, investors apparently liked what they saw in Merck's financial report Tuesday as they bid up the stock by 81 cents, or 2.8%, to $30.69.