Solvay has posted an 87% slide in net income for the fourth quarter to 29 million euros, hit by a “significant downturn” in its chemicals and plastics divisions, though pharmaceuticals put in a strong performance.

Group sales slipped 4% to 2.27 billion euros, though pharmaceutical revenues were up 15% to 754 million euros. For 2008, pharma sales increased 4% to 2.70 billion euros out of group turnover of 9.57 billion euros (-1%).

For the full year, Solvay’s fenofibrate drugs such as TriCor (sold by Abbott Laboratories) brought in 511 million euros, a rise of 18%. Trilipix, a new-generation fenofibrate co-developed with Abbott and recently approved in the USA, brought 39 million euros.

Creon, a pancreatic enzyme replacement product, had 2008 sales of 217 million euros (+9%), while the firm’s Androgel testosterone replacement therapy also rose 9% to 337 million euros. Revenues from the synthetic cannabinoid Marinol (dronabinol), for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and appetite loss in AIDS patients, fell 56% to 47 million euros as a result of generic competition.

Solvay said it was confident it would meet the objectives set for the pharma division under the INSPIRE project, and that it is in track for cost savings of 300 million euros by 2010. The company also noted that 20% of the division’s revenues are coming from emerging markets.

However Solvay shares had fallen 3.9% at 11.40 UK time this morning to 49.86 euros, as investors expressed concerns about the particularly poor performance of the plastics unit. The company noted that “macro-economic and financial uncertainties limit visibility in 2009” and “market conditions remain difficult at the beginning of the year”.