Following a second quarter in which restructuring charges cut into earnings, contract research organisation (CRO) ICON reported a 12.1% increase in operating income for the quarter ended 30 September, to US$30.4 million.

The Dublin-based company’s operating margin widened to 13.8% from 12.0% in the third quarter of 2008. And although net revenues in the latest quarter dipped 2.3% to US$220.4 million, on a constant organic dollar basis they were “similar to prior year”, ICON said.

The revenue figure was slightly below the consensus forecast of US$221.8 million from analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. But diluted earnings per share (EPS), at US$0.40 for the quarter compared with US$0.35 one year earlier, were well ahead of the consensus estimate of US$0.34.

ICON also raised its EPS guidance for the whole of 2009, to US$1.48-US$1.52, excluding the one-time net charges of US$4.2 million booked in the second quarter. At that point, the CRO was projecting full-year EPS of US$1.38 to US$1.44 on the same basis.

“Despite the economic and industry headwinds, ICON has continued to improve margins, grow earnings and significantly improve cashflows, enabling us to again raise earnings guidance for 2009,” commented chief executive officer Peter Gray.

“While higher than normal cancellations held back net business awards, the levels of business opportunity continue to be strong and we remain optimistic for the future,” he added.

Gross new business wins for the third quarter of 2009 came to US$296 million, while net wins were US$186 million, ICON said.