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Novartis mulls keeping Alcon as sales stabilize

Novartis AG is considering all options for its Alcon eye-care division, including keeping the business, after sales stopped declining in the fourth quarter of 2016.

During a Jan. 25 earnings call with journalists, CEO Joseph Jimenez said the company will review its plan for Alcon, where revenue had dropped over the past two years. Novartis could retain the business or exit through a spin-off, Jimenez said. The company intends to give an update toward the end of the year.

The Alcon division consists of vision care and surgical businesses. Vision care, which includes its contact lens and lens care products and make up 40% of the business, saw sales increase 5% on a constant-currency basis in the fourth quarter, extending its growth trend for the third consecutive quarter. Surgical sales were down 4% on a constant-currency basis, due to declining sales of cataract and refractive equipment, as well as increasing competition in the intraocular cataract lens segment. Adjusting for currency effects, Alcon's total revenue was unchanged in the fourth quarter.

Jimenez said that ophthalmic pharmaceuticals, which were folded into Novartis's drug division in 2016, will not be part of the strategic review of Alcon.

The Swiss drugmaker expects Alcon's 2017 net sales to be broadly in line with the prior year or to grow at a percentage in the low single digits.