Analysts at Merrill Lynch are forecasting a happy day for Altana when the German company announces its financials for 2004 on Thursday.

Ahead of the results, the broker noted that Altana has already published its preliminary sales (2.96 billion euros) and a rough guidance for pre-tax earnings of around 620 millions, figures which the broker says are “well ahead of our original forecast.”

Analyst Andreas Schmidt has given the stock a “buy” rating with a target share price up to 54 euros from 50 euros, still around 15% less than peers. However, he notes: “Our new price objective should be only an in-between step.”

Excitement around Altana is based on the asthma treatment Alvesco (ciclesonide), which has just been launched [[18/01/05b]], and an expected European Union approval of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease therapy Daxas (roflumilast), though that should be somewhat later than Altana had originally hoped [[29/10/04c]]. Nevertheless, if these two products take off, “Altana would become one of the fastest growing stocks in our universe and should then trade with a premium to its peers.”

Merrill Lynch does not expect any major pipeline news on Thursday and “given such general optimism (despite heavy investments and pre-marketing costs), our view that 2005 profits will rise becomes more likely.”

The broker predicts that net profits in 2005 will increase 7.9%, but Mr Schmidt warns that any pipeline failure, especially concerning Daxas would be harmful, as would “anything negatively affecting the pantoprazole franchise”. Altana’s gastro-intestinal product, Protonix (pantoprazole) is currently the firm’s major revenue driver in terms of pharmaceuticals.