Merck fourth-quarter profit rises 2 percent, sets aside more for Vioxx legal defense costs

Tuesday, January 31st 2006, 8:42 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Merck & Co. said Tuesday its fourth quarter net income rose 2 percent as the drug company announced it set aside an additional $295 million for legal defense costs related to its withdrawn painkiller Vioxx.

Merck said it earned $1.12 billion, or 51 cents a share, for the October-December quarter compared to $1.1 billion, or 50 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

Excluding charges for restructuring and taxes associated with repatriating foreign profits, Merck earned 64 cents a share in the latest quarter. That bear by two cents the consensus estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial.

Merck's revenue was nearly flat at $5.77 billion versus $5.75 billion a year ago. Sales of Zocor, a cholesterol-lowering treatment, fell 18 percent to $1.1 billion. The drug will lose patent protection in June. Other products fared better including Zetia and Vytorin, the cholesterol drugs Merck sells in partnership with Schering-Plough Corp. Zetia sales grew 19 percent to $391 million while Vytorin revenues reached $355 million.

Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market in September 2004 after a study showed it increased patients' risk of heart attacks and strokes. On Tuesday, Merck announced the number of lawsuits filed against it rose to about 9,650 from about 9,200.

The additional reserves announced Tuesday brings the total amount Merck has set aside for legal costs to $970 million.