Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Fourth Quarter Earnings Warn of a Tough Year Ahead

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Bristol-Myers Squibb reported its fourth-quarter earnings before the bell Tuesday morning, beating consensus for both diluted earnings per share on a non-GAAP basis and revenue. Per the release, Bristol earned $0.46 per share on a non-GAAP basis, topping the Street's estimates by $0.05. Revenues for the fourth-quarter came in at $4.3 billion, handily exceeding consensus by $270 million.

For the full-year, Bristol posted earnings of $1.85 per share, up 2% compared to a year ago. Revenues, though, fell by 3% for the year to $15.8 billion.

This mixed financial picture reflects the negative impacts of falling revenues for former top sellers like Abilify and the divestment of the company's diabetes alliance to AstraZeneca , butalso the strong performance of newer products like Eliquis, Orencia, Sprycel, and Yervoy.

Bristol's new hepatitis C treatments,DaklinzaandSunvepra, also performed better than expected, generating $207 million in sales during the quarter, even though they were essentially shut out of the U.S. market by competitors.

Despite these bright spots, management rolled out a less-than-sunny outlook for 2015. Specifically, the company expects revenues to fall by $800 million to $1.4 billion, and EPS to drop to between $1.55-$1.70, reflecting the plummeting sales for legacy products and a strong U.S. dollar hurting foreign exchanges.

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Bristol's clinical pipeline is developing nicely
Bristol's management has pinned its hope for a better financial future almost entirely on the company's robust clinical pipeline -- instead of simply buying smaller companies with newly approved drugs like so many of its peers. The good news is that this effort appears to be paying off and may even help turn the struggling big pharma around ahead of schedule.

The company's closely watched cancer immunotherapy, Opdivo, for example, continued to make significant progress in the clinic last quarter. Digging into the details, Bristol reported impressive top-line results for Opdivo as a third-line treatment for advanced, squamous cell non-small cell lung cancer in a late-stage study last month, which will act as the basis for an ongoing regulatory filing with the Food and Drug Administration.

But perhaps more importantly, the drug also showed a significant clinical benefit in an early stage study as a treatment forrelapsed or refractory hematological malignancies (blood disorders). The results of the study were published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicineand discussed at the American Society for Hematology annual meeting in San Francisco last December.

Overall, Opdivo is starting to look like it will exhibit anti-tumor properties across a range of cancer types, which would obviously broaden the drug's commercial potential in a major way.

Should investors panic over this bleak annual guidance?
A 9% potential drop in annual revenue and a corresponding 16% projected decline in non-GAAP EPS is never welcome news to investors. However, I think this gloomy outlook should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, management is expecting a strong U.S. dollar to play a huge role in these declining revenues this year ($800 million according to their estimates). But that scenario is far from set in stone, and could change in a hurry for a variety of reasons.

As such, I view this annual guidance as a "worst case scenario," and it might even be management's way of lowering expectations going forward. In other words, I wouldn't be surprised if Bristol is able to beat its own estimates on a consistent basis this year, especially if Opdivo lives up to the hype.

The article Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Fourth Quarter Earnings Warn of a Tough Year Ahead originally appeared on Fool.com.

George Budwell has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.