(Reuters) - Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) on Tuesday reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter results, helped by rebounding sales in emerging markets, but the drugmaker forecast that 2013 profits would be weaker than Wall Street has estimated.
Pfizer, the largest U.S. drugmaker, said quarterly earnings quadrupled to $6.32 billion, or 86 cents per share, as it recorded a gain from selling its nutritional products business to Swiss food groups Nestle SA (NESN.VX) for about $12 billion in November.
In the year-earlier quarter, it posted a profit of $1.44 billion, or 19 cents per share.
Excluding special items, Pfizer earned 47 cents per share in the quarter. Analysts, on average, expected 44 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Global company sales fell 7 percent to $15.1 billion, hurt by generic competition for its Lipitor cholesterol fighter, but came in well above expectations of $14.37 billion.
Pfizer forecast full-year 2013 earnings of $2.20 to $2.30 per share, excluding special items. The average analyst estimate was $2.29 per share, according to Thomson Reuters.
"Pfizer's 2013 forecast is a little lighter than expected, but won't cause me to lose sleep," said Judson Clark, an analyst with Edward Jones.
He said the forecast would have been 2 cents per share higher, and roughly in line with expectations, if not for expenses related to a planned spinoff of its animal health business into a new company called Zoetis.
Clark said he has a "buy" rating on the Pfizer shares because of its strong pipeline of experimental drugs.
Pfizer is on a roll with recent approvals of a handful of new products that could help it rebound from plunging sales of Lipitor.
They include a blood clot preventer called Eliquis - co-developed with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co (BMY.N) and approved in late December - that analysts believe could eventually claim annual sales of $5 billion or more. Xeljanz, a pill for rheumatoid arthritis deemed likely to generate annual sales of more than $2 billion, was approved by U.S. regulators in November.
Pfizer's shares have risen 26 percent in the last year, compared with 19 percent for the ARCA Pharmaceutical Index of large U.S. and European drugmakers, largely because of the turnaround in its long-anemic drug pipeline.
Investors have also warmed to Pfizer because of its ongoing efforts to spin off non-pharmaceutical operations and return much of the proceeds to investors in the form of bigger dividends and repurchases of common shares.
On the heels of selling its nutrition business, Pfizer is expected within days to raise more than $2.2 billion through an initial public offering that will separate its animal health unit into a new company called Zoetis.
Pfizer in November approved an additional $10 billion in share repurchases, after having repurchased almost $6 billion in shares in 2012 through an earlier $10 billion authorization.
Fourth quarter company sales in emerging markets rose 17 percent to $2.65 billion, in contrast with a slight decline in the prior quarter.
Global Lipitor sales plunged 71 percent in the quarter to $584 million, but that was offset by strong sales of other medicines.
Sales of its Prevnar vaccine against pneumococcal bacteria jumped 19 percent to $993 million, helping ease concerns about weak sales in earlier quarters. Sales of Celebrex, used to ease pain from arthritis, rose 12 percent to $750 million.
Pfizer's shares rose 2.3 percent, or about 63 cents, to $27.45 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Maureen Bavdek)