Geneva: Drug maker Novartis AG on Tuesday reported a 54% rise in fourth-quarter net profit to $2.32 billion on strong sales and favorable exchange rates, and announced the appointment of Joe Jimenez as its new chief executive.
Earnings per share rose 53% to $1.01 from $0.66 in the same quarter of 2008, when Novartis posted a net profit of $1.51 billion, the company said.
Sales of its products, which include the hypertension drug Diovan and anticancer drug Glivec, known as Gleevec in the United States, rose 28% to $12.93 billion in the September-December period from $10.08 billion the previous year.
“The fourth quarter has been especially strong,” outgoing CEO Daniel Vasella told reporters in a conference call, noting that Novartis benefited from better exchange rates and the shipment of large orders of swine flu vaccine in the final three months of 2009.
Vasella said the planned takeover of eye-care company Alcon Inc., which has met with resistance from some minority shareholders, would “propel Novartis to the global leadership position in eye-care and create a new growth platform.”
Novartis said it has appointed Jimenez, the head of its global pharmaceuticals division, to succeed Vasella effective from February.
“After 14 years as CEO it is the right time to complete the carefully planned CEO succession process, which started over a year ago,” Vasella said.
The company offered a positive outlook for 2010, but Vasella said much would depend on whether the Alcon deal proceeds as planned. “That is the swing factor,” he said.
Novartis, which already owns 25% of Alcon, has said it will buy Nestle SA’s 52 percent stake for $28 billion in cash before carrying out a merger with Alcon that would give it control of the remaining 23% held by minority shareholders.
Some minority shareholders have launched legal action in protest against what they perceive as an unfairly low offer to them of approximately $153 per share, compared with $168 per share that Novartis is paying Nestle.
Vasella also gave a cautious outlook on future orders for the swine flu, or H1N1, vaccine, saying demand may not hold up now that many countries perceive the pandemic to be milder than previously thought.
“I don’t know what the demand will be for new products, but it will be fairly moderate,” he said.