ZURICH (Reuters) - Novartis's fourth-quarter sales and profit rose less than analysts expected, as the Swiss drugmaker said on Tuesday that the COVID-19 pandemic affected divisions including its eye and skin drugs as well as generics unit Sandoz.
Core net income in the final three months of 2020 rose 3% in constant currencies to $3.03 billion, compared to the average forecast of $3.15 billion in a Refinitiv poll of analysts. Sales rose 1% to $12.77 billion, compared to $12.88 billion forecast in the poll.
During the year, Novartis said COVID-19-related lockdowns in regions including the United States and Europe crimped sales as some patients avoided visiting hospitals or doctor offices.
"Novartis delivered a solid performance in 2020 across our strategic priorities, despite the challenges of COVID-19," Chief Executive Vas Narasimhan said in a statement. "Looking ahead, we are confident that the progress we have made on our strategic priorities as a focused medicines company will result in top and bottom line growth through 2025."
Its Chinese business boosted sales 14% to $659 million in the quarter, and Novartis still expects to double sales there by 2024 compared to 2019.
Novartis proposed raising its dividend 1.7% to 3 Swiss francs per share. For the coming year, net sales are targeted to grow at a low- to mid-single-digit percentage rate, with core operating income expected to grow by mid-single-digit percentages, ahead of sales.
(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Michael Shields)