By the Financial Times ( Financial Times) -- Sanofi, the French pharmaceuticals group, pledged to raise sales and earnings by at least 5 per cent a year from 2012, as it announced a strategy designed to bolster investor support on the back of greater diversification and fresh efficiency savings.

Chris Viehbacher, chief executive, said the company would increase dividends by more than a third from 2010 levels to 50 per cent of earnings by 2014, while disappointing some analysts by only maintaining an "opportunistic" stance on share buybacks.

His plans come as the company braces for significant patent expiries in the coming months, while identifying fresh scope for efficiencies including a further €2bn ($2.8 billion) in savings this year following its $20 billion acquisition of Genzyme, the U.S.-based orphan drug company. Viehbacher said Sanofi had the potential for "near-term bolt-on acquisitions" valued at €1bn-€2 billion, and highlighted double-digit growth from emerging markets and Genzyme as well as strong growth from consumer healthcare, vaccines and its diabetes franchise.

He stressed the strength of the company's future pipeline, with 19 potential new product launches by 2015, the recent appointment of Elias Zerhouni as the new head of research and development and significant reductions since 2008 in the number of laboratories and staff. He said Sanofi was shifting from a high-risk, inward-looking and developed world-oriented company into one with a more collaborative culture, moderate risk and a global reach.

The company has nearly halved the size of its U.S. sales force since 2008 and cut those in Europe by a third, while hiring more than one-fifth more representatives in emerging markets to reach a headcount of 21,000. It estimated an operating margin across the business in 2011 of 29 per cent, ranging between 18 per cent in generics to 35 per cent in its diabetes franchise.

In a research note, Bernstein welcomed the moves as reinforcing its own "outperform" upgrade on the company, given its low rating compared with the rest of the sector, while "its longer-term financial outlook is better than the group average". Deutsche Bank said the company had the "most compelling re-rating potential in the sector", saying the "upside to expectations looks modest but should reassure on long-term growth".
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