Pfizer cuts forecast as Q1 sales fall $550M short of estimates

Like many of its rivals, Pfizer ($PFE) reported a dip in quarterly sales: 9%, to be exact, to $13.5 billion. But worse for Pfizer, the decline was bigger than analysts had expected. The company's revenue, hit by foreign exchange rates and an unexpected drop in Prevnar 13 sales, fell $440 million short of forecasts. If Lipitor hadn't outperformed in the face of generic competition--bringing in $626 million--it could have been worse.

In fact, Lipitor remains among Pfizer's top 5 products. Its biggest seller, the pain drug Lyrica, grew by 12% to just over $1 billion, while numbers two and three--Enbrel and Prevnar 13--fell by 2% and 10% respectively. Pfizer blamed the latter's decline on government payment patterns, and Enbrel suffered from lower international sales. Viagra, in 6th place behind Lipitor, brought in $461 million, more than $50 million off analyst estimates.

"[C]learly not a great quarter," ISI analyst Mark Schoenebaum said in an early investor note. "However, it appears that the company will attribute a large portion of the miss (but not all) to one-time factors such as U.S. buying patterns and [foreign exchange]."

Just how much of the sales weakness can be attributed to one-off events isn't clear, Schoenebaum said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention bought Prevnar 13 during the fourth quarter of last year, but didn't place an order during the first quarter. Emerging markets buyers cut back as well. Meanwhile, some $118 million in sales was lost to currency effects. And apparently, "buying pattern timing" also contributed to Viagra's shortfall. But Lipitor's strength looks like an unusual occurrence, too, predicated on return reserve adjustments.

Pfizer managed to keep quarterly profits at a respectable level, thanks to cost controls; earnings excluding items came in at 54 cents, a penny short of Bloomberg's analyst estimates. But the company pared 6 cents off its full-year forecast, lowering its range to $2.14 to $2.24 per share, down from $2.20 to $2.30.

The company is counting on new drugs to make up for Lipitor's decline, and CEO Ian Read pointed to Pfizer's latest product approvals as a sign of better things to come. The quarterly release didn't include sales figures for two of them--the highly anticipated blood thinner Eliquis and the rheumatoid arthritis treatment Xeljanz--so we don't yet know how those launches are going, at least from Pfizer's point of view. Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), Pfizer's Eliquis partner, noted $22 milion in sales for the drug, which launched during the quarter. That was about half of what analysts had expected, Bloomberg says.

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