Merck Does Investors a Favor

Shareholders in Merck (MRK) must be breathing a sigh of relief. An FDA panel voted 20-1 against approving Arcoxia, the company’s experimental arthritis pain killer, but the stock rallied $1.50 in after-hours trading Thursday night. Why such enthusiasm? Merck just happened to announce an increase in earnings guidance for 2007 right after news of the FDA committee’s decision hit the wires.

While many companies fail when it comes to looking out for investors, Merck deserves kudos for the timing of this announcement. An increase in 2007 guidance to $2.80 per share, versus current consensus estimates of $2.65 is more than enough to reverse the stock’s direction short term. Had the company waited until later in the month to announce the profit projections, the stock likely would have just recouped the losses suffered due to the FDA decision. Now, investors get a higher stock price despite the overwhelming angst over Arcoxia.

Now, one could argue that Arcoxia was not expected to be approved, so perhaps the stock would not have fallen very much. After all, the drug is a Cox-2 inhibitor, same class as Vioxx. However, by timing this announcement the way they did, at the very least it tells shareholders that the company does have its share price on the radar screen. That is a lot more than many public companies these days can say.

Should you go out and buy the stock hand over fist? That might be a bit extreme. Merck trades at 17 times the updated 2007 profit estimate. That seems about right to me. Throw in the 3.3% dividend yield and you have large cap stock that I would characterize as a solid hold, especially if the market’s jitters from last month come back later in the year, but not something you need to be throwing fresh money at all of the sudden.

Full Disclosure: No position