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Sanofi-Aventis: A Mix of News

With the company providing so much information, there are a lot of possible interpretations of whether Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE: SNY  ) had a "good" quarter. While I'd suggest the financial performance was pretty respectable, the clinical trial insights were more mixed.

Sales for the second quarter rose 6.5% on a reported basis and 10.1% on a "comparable" basis that adjusts for the Aventis merger and foreign currency effects. Margins were quite solid once again: Gross margin improved to nearly 79%, and operating margin climbed to 33.7%. Adjusted net income rose by 26%.

The company's top drugs led the way again, with the top 15 compounds bringing revenue growth of 16.2% in the quarter and making up more than 60% of the company's total. Market-leading drugs like Lovenox, Plavix, and Lantus were all quite strong and posted double-digit growth. The vaccine business also had a good quarter, as a new meningitis/pneumonia vaccine helped push sales up more than 13%.

Sanofi-Aventis generated more than $3.5 billion in free cash flow (before dividends) and has managed to repay close to $2 billion in debt so far this year. Based on the strong results, management raised earnings growth guidance for this year to at least 20%.

The clinical side of the business was less stellar. Sanofi-Aventis announced that it was dropping two compounds that were in phase 2-b testing (pranalcasan for arthritis and osanetant for schizophrenia). The company also announced mixed data from a phase 3 depression trial (the European study showed decent efficacy, but the North American study did not), and it's quite possible that another phase 3 study may be required before approval.

On a more positive note, the company had better success in trials studying insomnia, smoking cessation, and cancer. Investors should also remember that Sanofi-Aventis is awaiting Food and Drug Administration approval for Acomplia for obesity and smoking; Exubera, which is inhaled insulin, with Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) and Nektar (Nasdaq: NKTR  ) as partners; dronedarone for atrial fibrillation; Alvesco for asthma; and a longer-acting formulation of Ambien, for insomnia.

These late-stage drugs (as well as the 35 compounds in phases 2b or 3 testing) will be important. Sanofi-Aventis faces the threat of losing patent protection for Lovenox and Plavix, and should that happen, it would need these new drugs to maintain growth.

I won't make the case that Sanofi-Aventis is dirt-cheap or significantly undervalued. Stocks like Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) , GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK  ) , and AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN  ) are all cheaper, just to name three. But I do believe that Sanofi-Aventis has an appealing late-stage pipeline and the wherewithal to produce much better growth than the average pharmaceutical company over the next few years. Growth or value? It's an age-old question, but I'm continuing to stick with growth in this particular case.

For more healthy pharmaceutical Takes:

Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection; Merck is an Income Investor pick. For more investment ideas, tryany of our newsletters.

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson owns shares of Sanofi-Aventis. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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