March 5, 2020 / 7:30 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Merck KGaA forecasts strong profit growth on healthcare, lab gear

* Expects outbreak to ease in Q2 but warns forecast could change

* Q4 adj EBITDA +27% at 1.21 bln eur, above consensus of 1.15 bln

* Growth driven by MS drug Mavenclad, semiconductor materials (Adds details, quote)

By Ludwig Burger

FRANKFURT, March 5 (Reuters) - Merck KGaA said core earnings would see “strong” growth in 2020 when adjusted for one-offs and currency swings, but it would have to revise goals if the coronavirus outbreak does not start to ease from next month.

The German company said on Thursday it was working on the assumption that the coronavirus outbreak would reach its peak in the first quarter and subside during the second, but the overall impact on its business was difficult to determine.

“Should the crisis grow or trigger a global recession, the company would adapt its business forecast,” it said in a statement.

It said prescription drug and lab equipment sales would help drive growth in 2020.

Fourth-quarter earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), adjusted for special items, gained 27% to 1.21 billion euros ($1.35 billion), exceeding an average analyst estimate of 1.15 billion euros in a Refinitiv poll.

That was driven by sales of Merck’s new multiple sclerosis pill Mavenclad, which almost quadrupled from a year earlier to 127 million euros in the fourth quarter, and by the addition of semiconductor materials maker Versum, which the company acquired in October.

Merck’s Life Science unit, the world’s second-largest maker of lab equipment and supplies, benefitted from customers in the biotech industry upgrading their production and research gear.

$1 = 0.8983 euros Reporting by Ludwig Burger Editing by Michelle Martin

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