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Sales slow at Novartis

Sales at Basel-based health care group, Novartis, are up 13 per cent for the first nine months of the year at SFr27.6 billion ($16 billion), which is in line with market expectations. However, sales only rose by five per cent in local currencies.

Excluding businesses divested in 1999 and the discontinuing Agribusiness activities to be spun off in mid-November, the company's healthcare division posted nine month sales of SFr21.3 billion, an increase of 15 per cent in Swiss francs or seven per cent in local currencies.

That marked a minor slowdown from the eight per cent rise in local currencies, which drug sales generated in the first six months of the year.

Novartis reiterated that it expects solid growth in operating income and a higher net profit in 2000. The healthcare group has also upped its sales forecast for the flagship drugs business.

"The group expects the overall sales performance in local currencies to continue, with pharmaceutical sales growth in the mid- to high single-digit range for the full year," Novartis said in its interim sales statement.

In the past Novartis had spoken of simply mid single-digit drug sales growth.

The group said it would spend an extra SFr1 billion on marketing and sales over the next year amid new drug launches, which it said could lead to a short-term decline in operating margins.

Novartis shareholders are getting together on Wednesday to vote on plans to de-merge and combine Novartis Agribusiness with the agrochemicals business of AstraZeneca to form Syngenta.

The company said "pending shareholder approvals - awaited later today - and the consent of the antitrust authorities, the completion of the transaction is expected in mid November".

swissinfo with agencies

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