Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. barely broke even in the fourth quarter, due to a whopping pension charge and slightly lower prescription drug sales, but the drugmaker easily beat Wall Street's muted profit expectations.
The New York-based company is in a transition, with growing sales of some important new drugs starting to make up for declining revenue from former mainstays and a new CEO waiting in the wings.
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Chief Operating Officer and longtime Bristol-Myers executive Dr. Giovanni Caforio, 50, will take over running the company on May 5, the company said last week. Current CEO Lamberto Andreotti, 64, will retire on Aug. 3 after a transition period.
On Tuesday, Bristol-Myers reported net income of $13 million, or a penny per share, in the fourth quarter. A year ago, it posted net income of $726 million, or 44 cents per share.
The company took a $740 million charge for transferring its pension liabilities and assets for about 8,000 U.S. retirees and their beneficiaries to The Prudential Insurance Co., which will take over making their pension payments. The plan is financially strong, Bristol-Myers said.
Excluding that amount and some other one-time items, the company's adjusted income was $771 million, or 46 cents per share. Analysts surveyed by FactSet were expecting 41 cents.
The maker of rheumatoid arthritis drug Orencia and Yervoy for advanced melanoma reported sales totaling $4.26 billion, down 4 percent. Analysts had forecast $4.034 billion on average.
The decline was due to the sale early last year of its share of a diabetes business to former partner AstraZeneca PLC, the loss of its rights to sell schizophrenia drug Abilify outside the U.S., and increased brand-name or generic competition to its HIV and hepatitis B drugs.
But sales of Yervoy jumped 41 percent to $366 million, sales of Eliquis for preventing strokes and heart attacks quadrupled to $281 million, Orencia sales rose 12 percent to $443 million, and its new hepatitis C drug, not yet approved in the U.S., pulled in $207 million.
New cancer drug Opdivo got U.S. approval on Dec. 22 for treating advanced melanoma and quickly posted $5 million in sales. That likely will skyrocket quickly, and the drug is being tested against lung and blood cancers. It's part of the exciting new class of immuno-oncology drugs, which harness the immune system to attack cancer cells.
Meanwhile, the company forecast 2015 profit of $1.55 to $1.70 per share. Analysts were expecting $1.70.
Follow Linda A. Johnson at https://twitter.com/lindaj_onpharma .