UPDATE 1-Merck profit beats, but 2010 forecast cautious

NEW YORK, May 4 (Reuters) - Merck & Co MRK.N, which recently acquired U.S. rival Schering-Plough, reported better-than-expected first-quarter earnings, but its 2010 profit forecast barely encompassed Wall Street expectations.

Merck earned $299 million, or 9 cents per share, with results hurt by a number of special charges. That compared with $1.43 billion, or 67 cents per share in the year-earlier period.

Excluding special items, Merck earned 83 cents per share. Analysts on average expected 75 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company expects 2010 earnings of $3.27 to $3.41 per share, excluding special items. Analysts were expecting $3.41 per share. (Reporting by Ransdell Pierson)