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Pharma giant Novartis says profits dipped 1.0% in 2013

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Novartis on Wednesday announced that its net profit fell 1.0 percent in 2013 to $9.2 billion (6.8 billion euros), blaming the impact of unfavourable exchange rates.

Without taking into account rate fluctuations -- notably the fall of the Japanese yen and emerging markets' currencies against the dollar -- the group said that profit rose by 7.0 percent last year.

"Novartis delivered strong performance in 2013, growing both net sales and core operating income in constant currencies while absorbing patent expirations," chief executive Joseph Jimenez said in a statement.

"We maintained good momentum in innovation," he underlined, noting that 18 new Novartis drugs had won approval from regulators and that the US Federal Drug Administration had granted three products "breakthrough therapy" status.

"Our growth products continued to expand, rejuvenating our portfolio and reinforcing our growth prospects," Jimenez said.

Novartis is notably banking on the continued performance of its new anti-diabetes drug Galvus, which in 2013 achieved so-called "blockbuster" status thanks to full-year sales of $1.2 billion.

The blockbuster label is applied by the pharmaceuticals trade to drugs that notch up annual sales of more than $1.0 billion.

Novartis said that operating profit fell by 3.0 percent to $10.9 billion, while sales climbed 2.0 percent to $57.9 billion.

Like other pharmaceuticals firms, Novartis faces a strong challenges from makers of cheaper generic drugs, sales of which knocked $2.2 billion off the Swiss group's figures last year.

Novartis said that pressure from generics could increase in 2014, warning that its figures could be dented by $3.0 billion if a generic version of its big-name blood pressure drug Diovan is launched in the United States in the second quarter of this year.

Novartis lost its exclusive rights to Diovan on the US market in 2012, but has benefitted from delays in the launch of a generic version there.

Global sales of Diovan nonetheless fell by 20 percent to $3.52 billion in 2013, given that the group also lost its exclusive rights in Canada and the European Union.

Jimenez said that Novartis also expected productivity gains to help drive growth and offset the impact of patent expirations.

If a generic form of Diovan does hit the US market, Novartis indicated that the group's sales could grow this year by "a low to mid-single digit rate" -- company-speak for up to 5.0 percent.

If the event that generic Diovan suffers further delays, Novartis said that it was holding to its forecast for sales growth of "at least mid-single digit".

Analysts said there were few surprises in group's performance.

Bank J. Safra Sarasin's David Kaegi said Novartis had posted solid figures that largely fulfilled expectations, though he noted that there had been pressure on the group's margins from generics.

"On a group level, Novartis did a good job offsetting this pressure with productivity measures and the diversification," he said, adding that the group's pipeline of new products was "above par".

In mid-morning trading in Zurich, Novartis shares had gained 0.84 percent, reaching 71.90 Swiss francs ($80.01, 58.60 euros), while the overall SMI market index was up 0.45 percent.

The Novartis board is to propose a dividend of 2.45 Swiss francs per share, down from 2.30 francs last year.

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