Despite protestations from its chief executive Ian Read, many observers believe Pfizer will hit the merger highway hard after posting falls in sales and earnings for the fourth quarter.

Sales slipped 3% to $13.12 billion, while net income slumped 52% to $1.23 billion, hit by patent expiries, the loss of co-promotion deals and currency effects. Pfizer's best-selling drug, Lyrica (pregabalin) for epilepsy, fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain, increased 10% to $1.39 billion, while the Prevnar pneumococcal disease vaccine franchise was up 16% to $1.30 billion.

The arthritis and psoriasis therapy Enbrel (etanercept) was flat at $1.00 billion outside North America but the COX-2 inhibitor Celebrex (celecoxib) sank 31% to $550 million, hit by generics. Sales of the off-patent cholesterol lowerer Lipitor (atorvastatin) fell 6% to $572 million, while the erectile dysfunction blockbuster Viagra (sildenafil) slipped 4% to $457 million.

In terms of newer products, Xalkori (critzotinib) for advanced non-small cell lung cancer reached $129 million, up 44%, while the rheumatoid arthritis pill Xeljanz (tofacitinib) shot up 122% to $104 million. The blood-thinner Eliquis (apixaban), marketed with Bristol-Myers Squibb, which leapt to $281 million from $71 million for the same period in 2013.

Downbeat forecast for 2015

The results were not bad but what disappointed was Pfizer’s 2015 sales forecast of $44.5-$46.5 billion, below analyst estimates. Frank D’Amelio, chief financial officer, said the negative impact ofpatent losses next year will be about $3.5 billion, while foreign exchange rates will knock $2.8 billion off the total.

However he noted Pfizer returned nearly $12 billion to shareholders through share buybacks and dividends in 2014.

Mr Read was positive on Pfizer’s pipeline, saying “we are now in a position to commence over 20 registrational studies during the coming four years with candidates that are based upon strong science and target indications that have significant unmet need”.

On a conference call, he said he was “a little mystified” by suggestions Pfizer has to do a big deal, saying that if he had felt pressured to do so, he would have done one last year, a reference to a rejected bid for AstraZeneca.