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Pfizer leaves investors guessing on intentions for Astra

By Ransdell Pierson

(Reuters) - Pfizer Inc , which in May abandoned its $118 billion bid for AstraZeneca Plc , on Tuesday left investors guessing whether it would renew its pursuit of its British rival, but said it was considering other deals.

The largest U.S. drugmaker reported higher-than-expected second-quarter revenue, helped by growing demand for its cancer medicines. But overall sales fell on competition with newer rival drugs and cheaper generics, trends that have quickened Pfizer’s efforts to buy companies and drugs that can fortify its medicine chest.

Under UK takeover rules, AstraZeneca can attempt to re-engage with Pfizer in August, and Pfizer can make another run at AstraZeneca in November.

Pfizer officials on Tuesday gave no hints of whether they would do so, although Chief Executive Ian Read said Pfizer is not currently "doing any work on AstraZeneca" because of a six-month quiet period imposed by U.K. regulators.

"I think it's best to remain silent," Read said on an investor conference call, citing the takeover rules.

Pfizer officially gave up its six-month quest to buy AstraZeneca after its final bid was rejected on May 26. It had hoped to locate the combined company in Britain, which has lower taxes than the United States, a maneuver called tax inversion.

Read said Pfizer was also looking at other potential deals and that taxes would be one of three major considerations.

Other factors are whether a potential acquisition is undervalued, and whether cost savings from a deal would offset a premium price for shares of the target company.

Read said Pfizer shareholders appreciated the company's limiting the final Astra offer to 55 pounds a share, rather than the minimum bid of 59 pounds that the British company had wanted.

While 4 pounds might not seem a major chasm, Chief Financial Officer Frank D'Amelio quickly interjected in an interview, "Every pound was $2 billion."

Pfizer shares have been flat this year due to declining revenue, while the drug sector as a whole has seen shares rise 11 percent.

In the next four years, generic rivals will challenge well-known Pfizer products such as the Celebrex painkiller, Lyrica nerve pain treatment and anti-impotence drug Viagra, putting pressure on Pfizer to acquire new products.

JP Morgan analyst Chris Schott speculated Pfizer may seek other tax-inversion opportunities if it is unable to reach a friendly deal with AstraZeneca.

In the meantime, Pfizer is developing new drugs, including a promising treatment for breast cancer called Palbociclib that could be approved next year.

Pfizer's research chief, Mikael Dolsten, said new uses for its Prevnar vaccine against pneumococcal bacteria and Xeljanz arthritis treatment could also bolster Pfizer. New vaccines against staph aureus and c. difficile bacteria could prove to be hidden gems in the Pfizer pipeline, he added.

Pfizer earned $2.91 billion, or 45 cents per share, in the second quarter. That compared with $14.1 billion, or $1.98 per share, a year earlier, when it received more than $10 billion in proceeds from the spinoff of its animal health business, creating Zoetis .

Excluding special items, Pfizer earned 58 cents per share. Analysts on average expected 57 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Sales fell 2 percent to $12.77 billion but exceeded Wall Street expectations of $12.46 billion.

Sales of oncology medicines rose 16 percent to $570 million, but generic medicines that Pfizer calls established products and sells in emerging markets had lower sales.

Pfizer stuck to its prior earnings forecast of $2.20 to $2.30 per share for the full year.

Merck & Co , the second-biggest U.S. drugmaker, also reported higher-than-expected quarterly results on Tuesday.

Pfizer shares closed down 1.2 percent to $29.73.

(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and David Gregorio)

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