Merck misses profit estimates, forecasts larger hit to 2021 sales from pandemic

FILE PHOTO: The Merck logo is seen at a gate to the Merck & Co campus in Rahway, New Jersey, U.S., July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

(Reuters) -Merck & Co Inc on Thursday missed estimates for first-quarter profit and forecast a bigger hit to 2021 sales than its previous estimate as the pandemic hurt demand for its drugs that need to be administered in a clinic.

Shares fell nearly 3% to $74.95 before the opening bell as the company also disclosed a roughly $600 million hit to first-quarter sales from the health crisis.

Merck now expects the COVID-19 pandemic will hurt its 2021 sales by 3%, up from 2% previously, as many of the company’s drugs need to be administered at the doctor’s office, which largely remained shut due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

A large blow was seen on sales of non-COVID-19 vaccines, including Gardasil, a vaccine to prevent cancers caused by the human papillomavirus virus, in the United States and Europe. Gardasil sales tumbled 16.4% to $917 million.

The company said it expected the impact to vaccines sales would persist during the first half of 2021, and that it would allocate doses of Gardasil to markets outside the United States to soften the blow.

Sales of blockbuster cancer drug Keytruda rose 18.7% to $3.90 billion, but missed Wall Street estimates of $3.98 billion.

Net earnings fell to $3.18 billion, or $1.25 per share, in the first-quarter ended March 31, from $3.22 billion, or $1.26 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned $1.40 per share, missing the average analyst estimate of $1.63, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

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