Pfizer (PFE) said its fourth-quarter profit fell 50% from the year-earlier period on the loss of patent exclusivity of cholesterol drug Lipitor, but still managed to surpass Wall Street expectations. 

Pfizer cut its 2012 forecast, saying it now sees sales between $60.5 billion and $62.5 billion, down from its earlier view of $62.2 billion to $64.7 billion, and earnings in the range of $2.20 to $2.30 a share, trimmed from an earlier $2.25 to $2.35.

Wall Street is looking for earnings of $2.30 on sales of $63.06 billion.

The drug maker posted net income of $1.44 billion, or 19 cents a share, compared with a year-earlier $2.89 billion, or 36 cents, in the fourth quarter. Excluding one-time items, the company earned 50 cents, just ahead of average analyst estimates of 47 cents in a Thomson Reuters poll.

Revenue for the three-month period was $16.76 billion, down 4% from $17.3 million a year ago, beating the Street’s view of $16.61 billion.

Sales were hurt by year-over-year declines in its primary care, specialty care and biopharmaceutical segments, as the company struggled without the exclusivity of Lipitor, which it lost in November, and Caduet.

The declines were partially offset by improvements in its animal health business, led by the addition of legacy King products and a robust global livestock portfolio, as well as higher sales of core brands like Advil and Robitussin.  

“I am pleased with our 2011 financial performance, which was achieved in the face of a challenging global market and product losses of exclusivity of approximately $5 billion,” Pfizer CEO Ian Read said in a statement.

The company says it is on track to finalize strategic decisions for the animal health and nutrition businesses and expects that any separation of business or sale would occur between July 2012 and July 2013.

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