AstraZeneca announces more layoffs, Q4 results

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AstraZeneca confirmed rumors of another round of deep cuts, announcing that it will eliminate 7,300 positions throughout the company.

The latest round of cuts, announced with fourth-quarter and year-end earnings, includes shuttering research centers in Sodertalje, Sweden and Montreal, Canada.

Fourth-quarter sales edged up to $8.66 billion from $8.61 billion in 2010, beating the consensus estimate of $8.5 billion. Sales for the year hit $33.6 billion, a slight increase from $33.3 billion in 2010.

CEO David Brennan said that the cuts announced Thursday are part of a larger plan. “It's not just a tactical response to a pending patent expiration, it's part of a much bigger set of changes,” he said. This "Phase Three" layoff announcement follows earlier waves of cuts in 2007 and 2010. AstraZeneca announced in January that it was slashing its sales force by 24%.

The company is poised to lose three major brands over the next two years. Seroquel and Symbicort go off patent this year, and Nexium loses its patent protection in 2014. Bloomberg reports that Seroquel and Nexium brought in more than $10.2 billion in revenue last year, complementing CFO Simon Lowth's comment that the company expects “a significant decline in revenue for 2012.”

The cuts initiated in 2010 are expected to save the company $1.9 billion by the end of 2014, and those announced today are expected to save the company $1.6 billion annually by 2014.

Sanford Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson called the company's five year outlook “uninspiring” in a research note and added the challenge from generics is not going away. Anderson said the most notable shift will be in 2016 when Crestor goes off patent in the U.S. He also noted that the company downgraded its long term guidance for the second time, providing a 2014 range of $28 billion to $34 billion, leaning towards the higher range, but is now saying sights should be set on the lower number. “In other words, the long-term guidance has serially been overly optimistic,” he writes.

A Deutsche Bank analyst told Brennan during a Q&A that the company's pipeline is simply not delivering and asked when it will alter its strategy.

Brennan agreed the pipeline is underperforming, but says the company's focus on innovation is the right one, and that they need to “deliver more consistently that it has in the past.”

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