Merck KGaA has posted a reasonable set of figures for the fourth quarter this morning, although they missed analysts estimates earnings-wise, and the German firm is paying a much lower dividend than last year.

The Darmstadt-based group’s net income came in at 56.7 million euros, compared with a loss of 108.5 million euros in the like, year-earlier period (which included 400 million euros in exceptional items). Revenues were up 5.9% to 2.03 billion euros.

For the full year, net income was pretty flat at 366.3 million euros, while turnover was up 2.1% to 7.75 billion euros. Merck’s R&D spend climbed 8.9% to 1.35 billion euros, mainly due to the fact that the company is conducting trials on 10 projects in Phase III.

In 2009, the Merck Serono unit contributed 5.35 billion euros, an increase of 6.6%. Driving that growth were sales of the multiple sclerosis drug Rebif (interferon beta-1a) which rose 15% to 1.54 billion euros, while the colorectal/head and neck cancer drug Erbitux (cetuximab) climbed 23% to 697 million euros. As for Merck’s other products, the beta blocker Concor (bisoprolol) franchise was down 5.4% to 395 million euros, while its Glucophage (metformin) diabetes products increased 8.5% to 291 million euros. Merck’s thyroid treatments, notably Euthyrox (levothyroxine), contributed 137 million euros, up 6.5%.

Chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley said that “considering the overall circumstances of last year, we can be satisfied” with the results, noting that for 2010, Merck expects revenue growth of 3%-7% and an operating profit rise of 20%-30%. He added, however, "it will be crucial [that] the economic recovery trend remains stable".

Merck is still hoping that its multiple sclerosis drug cladribine will be the first oral product for the disease to hit the market but that plan was hurt when the US Food and Drug Administration issued a ‘refuse to file’ letter, saying the application was incomplete. Yesterday, the FDA granted a priority review for rival Novartis’ oral treatment for MS, Gilenia (fingolimod).

The company is proposing a dividend for 2009 of 1 euro per share, compared with 1.50 euros in 2008 and that, coupled with the results, does not seem to have impressed investors much this morning. Merck’s shares were down 6.7% at 60.16 euros at 9.40 (UK time).