AstraZeneca reaffirms outlook after mistaken release

Mon Jan 9, 2012 9:08am GMT

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LONDON - Britain's second largest drugmaker AstraZeneca (AZN.L) was forced to reiterate its 2011 and mid-term financial forecasts on Monday after inadvertently releasing confidential company information to analysts.

The Anglo-Swedish firm, which is struggling to keep pace with its European peers, described the released details as "out of date planning information" which it said did not represent its forecast for the full year for 2011 or for future periods.

"The most recent update of the company's financial guidance for 2011 was issued on 20 December 2011," it said.

"Today, the company reaffirms this guidance; the company continues to expect to report core earnings per share for the full year 2011 in the lower half of the range of $7.20 to $7.40."

The group also repeated its expectations for revenue, margins and cash deployment for the period between 2010 to 2014, which had been given a year ago.

AstraZeneca, which suffered a double blow to its drug pipline last month resulting in a $381.5 million (247.1 million pound) pretax charge, said the mistaken information had slipped out during "a routine consensus collection process."

"Confidential company information was inadvertently embedded in a spreadsheet template sent to the sell-side analyst community that follows the company," its statement said.

The firm's shares were down 0.4 percent by 0858 GMT.

AstraZeneca already has the weakest pipeline of its European peers and was hit hard by a double setback in its development of a cancer drug called olaparib and an experimental anti-depressant called TC-5214, which it is with U.S. biotech partner Targacept (TRGT.O).

The firm can ill-afford such failures as it faces looming patent losses on blockbusters like Seroquel for schizophrenia and Nexium for heartburn and ulcers, since it has few other medicines in late-stage development other than a new pill for rheumatoid arthritis.

Its top-selling cholesterol fighter Crestor also has a tough time ahead, due to the arrival of cheap generic copies of Pfizer's (PFE.N) market-leading drug Lipitor in the key U.S. market in November 2011.

The firm said in December that despite the setbacks, it still expected to hit its target for 2011 earnings, but core earnings per share, which exclude certain items, were now expected be in the lower half of the $7.20 to $7.40 range.

In Monday's statement it said it would provide specific financial guidance for 2012 and any updates to its 2010 to 2014 mid-term planning assumptions when it publishes its 2011 full year results on February 2.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland and Kate Holton; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters)

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