AstraZeneca raises earnings outlook as sales climb

A woman walks past AstraZeneca's site in Macclesfield, northwest England, on May 8, 2014 (AFP Photo/Andrew Yates) (AFP/File)

London (AFP) - British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca, which fought off a takeover from Pfizer earlier this year, raised its 2014 earnings outlook on Thursday and posted rising second-quarter sales.

Turnover gained four percent to $6.454 billion (4.819 billion euros) in the three months to June from a year earlier, aided by emerging markets and the United States, Astra said in a results statement.

The performance was also lifted by the inclusion of AstraZeneca's former diabetes joint venture. The group bought out partner Bristol-Myers Squibb late last year for $4.1 billion.

In addition, sales were pushed higher by delays to the launch of generic versions of Astra's best-selling heartburn pill Nexium by Indian drugmaker Ranbaxy.

AstraZeneca added it expected 2014 revenues to be in line with the prior year. That was an upgrade from previous guidance for low-to-mid single digit percentage decline.

Earnings per share (EPS) -- a key measure of company performance -- was expected to fall in low double-digits this year. That marked an upgrade from the prior estimates for a percentage drop in the teens.

"We have made significant progress in the first half of the year, with visible momentum across our cardiovascular, diabetes and respiratory franchises as well as strong growth in the emerging markets," said chief executive Pascal Soriot in the statement.

"This has driven revenue growth for the second consecutive quarter and achieved a 13-percent increase in core earnings per share in the quarter.

"The pace of execution of our strategy and the underlying performance of our teams give us confidence to raise 2014 guidance for the full year."

On a downbeat note, Astra added that net profits, or earnings after taxation, dipped by 3.3 percent to $796 million in the reporting period, hit by ongoing investment in new drug development.

The results were meanwhile published one day after AstraZeneca agreed to purchase a portfolio of respiratory drugs from Spanish pharmaceuticals firm Almirall for up to $2.1 billion.

"The business combination with Almirall will offer strategic long-term value, bringing together the two innovative portfolios to strengthen further our commitment to respiratory disease and contribute to our growth," added Soriot on Thursday.

In late May, AstraZeneca fought off a $117-billion takeover bid from US giant Pfizer, amid worries over British jobs and research capability.

There were also accusations that the tie-up was a cynical ploy by Pfizer to avoid paying tax on profits if they were sent to the United States. The group had also proposed to switch its tax base to Britain from the US.

Under British takeover rules, Pfizer must now wait six months before it can bid again for AstraZeneca.