Carried by an 8% Rise in Sales, Merck's 3Q Net Soars

Merck (NYSE:MRK) revealed on Friday a stronger-than-expected surge in third-quarter profits thanks to weak comparisons, leading the blue-chip drug maker to upgrade its full-year financial guidance.

In the wake of the earnings beat and new outlook, shares of Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck rallied more than 2% in early trading.

The pharmaceutical company said it earned $1.69 billion, or 55 cents a share, last quarter, compared with a profit of $342 million, or 11 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding one-time items, it earned 94 cents a share, exceeding consensus calls from analysts for 91 cents.

Sales climbed 8% to $12.02 billion, compared with the Street’s view of $11.61 billion.

“Three consecutive quarters of top and bottom line growth demonstrate our ability to consistently perform while at the same time make the strategic investments necessary for the future,” CEO Kenneth Frazier said in a statement. “We remain focused on driving innovation and value for our customers and shareholders over the long term."

Encouraged by the solid results, Merck upped its 2011 non-GAAP profit outlook to a range of $3.72 to $3.76. That forecast compares favorably with estimates from analysts for EPS of $3.73.

Merck’s pharmaceutical sales grew 9% to $10.35 billion, led by a 10% gain in Singulair revenue to $1.34 billion and a 41% surge in Januvia sales to $846 million. Zetia sales grew 8% to $614 million, while Gardasil revenue leaped 41% to $445 million.

Merck also posted a strong quarter for its animal health unit, which grew it sales 20% year-over-year amid strength in cattle, swing and poultry products.

Shares of Merck rallied 2.59% to $35.19 Friday morning, allowing the company to eat into its nearly 5% 2011 decline.