Emerging markets lift AstraZeneca profits

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Anglo-Swedish drugs giant AstraZeneca posted a seven percent rise in 2010 net profits Thursday thanks to booming sales in emerging markets and strong US growth of cholesterol treatment Crestor.

AstraZeneca said in a statement that earnings after tax jumped to $8.05 billion (5.86 billion euros) last year from $7.52 billion in 2009.

"Our performance in 2010 underlines the strength and resilience of AstraZeneca's business," chief executive David Brennan said in a statement.

"Despite government pricing pressures and anticipated patent expiries in the US and Western Europe, our revenues remained in line with the previous year, driven by excellent performance of our key brands and continued growth in Emerging Markets.

"This performance, combined with disciplined management of the business, enabled us to deliver increased earnings, increase the dividend and return residual cash to shareholders through share repurchases," he added.

AstraZeneca returned $2.1 billion to shareholders in 2010 by buying back shares and said it planned to hand over $4.0 billion this year.

The company said revenue increased 1.4 percent to $33.27 billion last year.

"Declines in the US from generic competition and the absence of H1N1 (flu) vaccine revenue was offset by good growth in the rest of world. Revenue in the US was down seven percent, whilst revenue in the rest of world increased by seven percent," AstraZeneca said.

Sales in emerging markets exceeded $5.0 billion for the first time.

For the fourth quarter alone, net profit increased 4.4 percent to $1.62 billion.

Despite rising profits, chief financial officer Simon Louth expressed caution about the outlook for this year.

Louth said 2011 will be "challenging for the industry and for the company, as its revenue base transitions through a period of exclusivity loss and new product launches."

AstraZeneca warned that revenues will be affected by the loss of market exclusivity for its breast cancer drug Arimidex in the United States and in Europe.

In reaction to the results, the company's share price rose 1.14 percent to 3,108.5 pence in afternoon deals on the London stock market, which was up 0.22 percent.

"A continued push into emerging markets has played its part, whilst management's relentless focus on reducing costs has again contributed," said analyst Keith Bowman at Hargreaves Lansdown stockbrokers.

-- Dow Jones Newswires contributed to this report --

© 2011 AFP

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