StockMarketWire.com - AstraZeneca said Thursday a 'strong' fourth quarter led by performance of new medicines underscored its return to growth as the drugmaker met its guidance.

For the 12 months to 31 December, revenue fell 2% to $22.1bn and product sales rose 4% to $21.05bn, which was in line with guidance for low-single-digit growth. While earnings per share fell 19% to $3.46 a share, toward the upper end of guidance for earnings of $3.30 to $3.50 a share.

The in line earnings and product sales were driven by a 'strong' fourth quarter amid strong performance from new drugs, the company said.

Product sales rose 8% to $5.77bn for the quarter, from a year earlier, and core earnings were up 22% to $1.58 a share.

Growth was the led by the performance of new drugs -- especially those for cancer – as oncology sales grew 50% to $6.04bn for the year.

The company declared a second interim dividend of $1.90 per share, taking the unchanged full-year dividend per share to $2.80.

'Closing the year with another strong quarter, our performance confirmed that AstraZeneca has returned to growth,' said Pascal Soriot, Chief Executive Officer.

'Our new medicines performed particularly well across the therapy areas and the Emerging Markets business went from strength to strength'

For 2019, the company said it would target core earnings per share of $3.50 to $3.70, and full-year product sales are expected to increase in high single-digit percentage, at constant currency rates.

Core operating profit in 2019 was anticipated to increase, ahead of product sales, by a mid-teens percentage compared with a year earlier. While core operating expenses were also expected to increase by a low single-digit percentage.



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