Pfizer Inc.'s Fourth-Quarter Earnings Hint at Big Things to Come

By Markets Fool.com

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Source: Flickr via Montgomery County.

Pfizer posted its fourth-quarter results this morning, beating consensus on both adjusted diluted earnings per share (EPS) and revenue for the three-month period. Specifically, the company reported earnings of $0.54 per share, topping the Street's estimates by $0.01. Revenue for the quarter came in at $13.1 billion, beating the consensus by $200 million.

For the full year, Pfizer generated $2.26 per share on $49.6 billion in revenues. In 2013, the pharma giant reported slightly lower earnings ($2.22), but higher revenues ($51.45 billion), reflecting the impact of the company's $6.2 billion in share buybacks over the past year.

Looking ahead, Pfizer's management provided a rather bleak picture regarding the drugmaker's prospects in 2015. Because of the loss of former top sellers like Celebrex and a strong dollar negatively impacting currency exchanges, the company estimates that EPS could fall to $2.00 from $2.10 this year. Revenues are also expected to tumble by $2 to $4 billion in 2015, compared to last year.

Breaking it down
Pfizer continues to be plagued by its established products business, with this segment reporting a hefty 7% decline in sales during the quarter. Per the earnings release, management blamed this high single-digit decline on falling Lipitor and Celebrex sales -- a pattern expected to continue going forward.

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By contrast, the drugmaker's innovation products and consumer healthcare segment posted decent growth for both the fourth quarter and the full year. Global vaccines, for instance, saw sales grow by a healthy 22% for the three-month period, and by 15% for the year. As expected, the bulk of this growth came from Prevnar 13 sales, which increased by 33% in the U.S. alone.

Global oncology sales also came in strong, with a 14% rise in sales for the quarter and the full year. Management attributed this double-digit increase mainly to two products,Xalkori andInlyta.

Pipeline developments
Perhaps the biggest news on the pipeline front is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) apparently has no plans on holding an advisory committee meeting for Pfizer's highly anticipated breast cancer drug Ibrance (palbociclib).

As it stands now, the drug's target review date is April 13, and management has stated that they are in discussions with the agency regarding the drug's label. In short, it looks highly likely that this potential megablockbuster cancer drug will get the green light from the FDA soon, which could help to offset some of the steep losses occurring in the company's established products business.

What's next?
Based on how the stock is reacting to this release this morning (down over 2%), investors appear to be pessimistic about Pfizer's 2015 outlook. That said, I would think twice about selling this top dividend stock today based on annual guidance that could dramatically change on a moment's notice.

As I've mentioned before, this year could see the world's largest drugmaker transform into a wholly different company. The anchor that is the established products business looks ripe to be packaged and sold off after the internal reorganization that took place in 2014. And Pfizer has signaled via its failed takeover attempt of AstraZenecathat it is willing to make a major splash on the merger and acquisition front. With over $30 billion in cash, this pharma giant has more than enough firepower to pull off a huge buyout, helping it put the ongoing problems of the patent cliff squarely in the rear view mirror.

Next up, there is the looming approval of breast cancer drug Ibrance, which would undoubtedly help the company regain momentum in terms of growing its top line. With peak sales that have been estimated to reach a jaw-dropping $9 billion, this regulatory review is definitely worth keeping tabs on come April.

All told, I think Pfizer will end up having a stronger than expected year on the earnings front, despite today's weak guidance. In my view, the story of Pfizer's 2015 is only hinted at in this earnings release, and the real upheaval will begin when a takeover target is finally announced.

The article Pfizer Inc.'s Fourth-Quarter Earnings Hint at Big Things to Come 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.