Lilly tops Street 1Q forecasts

(WISH Photo/Brett Bensley)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Eli Lilly and Co.’s first-quarter earnings tumbled 27 percent as generic competition continued to eat away at sales for key products, but the drugmaker’s performance topped expectations.

The maker of the antidepressant Cymbalta also said unfavorable foreign exchange rates hurt revenue, which slipped 1 percent in the quarter.

Lilly lost U.S. patent protection for Cymbalta, once its top-selling drug, at the end of 2013 and saw sales for that product plummet 40 percent to $287 million in this year’s first quarter. Revenue from the antipsychotic Zyprexa, another former top seller hit by generic competition, dropped 22 percent to $219.5 million.

These numbers will surprise few on Wall Street because Lilly has warned for years that it faced the patent expirations. But Chairman and CEO John Lechleiter said Thursday in a written statement that the company expects to return to growth in 2015. It has been working to develop more drugs and expand certain elements of its business like animal health.

Overall, Lilly earned $529.5 million, or 50 cents per share, in the quarter that ended March 31. That compares to earnings of $727.9 million, or 68 cents per share, last year.

Adjusted results, excluding restructuring costs and other one-time charges, totaled 87 cents per share.

Analysts forecast, on average, earnings of 76 cents per share, according to Zacks Investment Research.

Revenue fell to $4.64 billion from $4.68 billion, but that topped analyst expectations for $4.62 billion.

The drugmaker reaffirmed its full-year forecast for adjusted earnings ranging between $3.10 to $3.20 per share.

Average analyst expectations fall in the middle of that range, according to FactSet.

Lilly shares rose 6 cents to $72.35 in midday trading Thursday. The company’s stock has risen roughly 5 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has risen slightly more than 2 percent. The shares have advanced about 20 percent in the last 12 months.

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