Schering-Plough ( SGP) Tuesday reported a fourth-quarter loss slightly greater than analysts had predicted, but said it had begun to reverse a decline that had plagued it in recent years. "In 2004, the company managed severe top-line challenges while making critical investments in our long-term future," said Fred Hassan, the chairman and CEO. "As we go into 2005, we are seeing the beginnings of top-line growth, with quarterly sales comparisons gradually moving into positive territory," he said. "In my experience, it is exceptionally challenging to turn negative sales momentum into positive performance. We are proud of this accomplishment." For the quarter ended Dec. 31, Schering-Plough reported a net loss of $834 million, or 58 cents a share, on revenue of $2.18 billion. However, that figure includes a onetime charge of $807 million, or 55 cents a share, primarily for a new law that allows companies with foreign subsidiaries to repatriate earnings for domestic uses at reduced tax rates. Schering-Plough will repatriate $9.4 billion, thanks to the law signed by President George W. Bush in October. The tax rate will be 5.25% instead of the customary corporate tax rate of 35%. In 2003, Schering-Plough's effective tax rate was 15%. Hassan didn't say how the tax-holiday funds would be applied, except to note that they would be used "for productive purposes." Without the tax charge, Schering-Plough would have lost 3 cents a share for the quarter. The consensus of analysts polled by Thomson First Call was a loss of 1 cent a share. The consensus sales estimate was $2.08 billion. For the same period in 2003, Schering-Plough reported a loss of $181 million, or 12 cents a share, on revenue of $1.95 billion. For fiscal 2004, the company lost $947 million, or 67 cents a share, on revenue of $8.27 billion. For fiscal 2003, it lost $92 million, or 6 cents a share, on revenue of $8.33 billion.