On a day when many pharmaceutical stocks traveled upward on the coattails of Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), Wyeth (NYSE:WYE) missed the party, having reported dismal fourth-quarter earnings, as well as a rather dull outlook for the first half of this year. The company predicted improving fortunes in the second half of 2004, but the stock still fell nearly 7% at one point in morning trading.

While its fourth-quarter revenues did creep up by 14%, Wyeth's earnings took a 79% downward hit -- first, last year's quarter included a one-time gain, and this year, Wyeth's taking charges related to restructuring, asset impairments, and the cost of repaying some debt. It also took writedowns related to FluMist and Premarin.

Speaking of which, these two are high on the list of hard times at Wyeth. One of the higher profile disasters this year has been the disappointing FluMist launch, a product co-marketed with MedImmune (NASDAQ:MEDI). Sales turned out to be so disappointing and demand so low, the companies slashed the price of the costly vaccine, and now they are giving it away. That's right, for free. Ouch.

Reuters reported that the vaccine only generated a sickly $9 million in revenues for the quarter. This is a far cry from the high-flying figures bandied about last fall, when the sales outlook for the vaccine was seen as high as $140 million for 2003.

Wyeth has also seen drastically dropping revenues related to its hormone replacement therapy, Premarin. When the medical community found an increased incidence of heart attacks and cancer linked to HRT, Premarin sales fell; in the fourth quarter, sales fell 25%.

Adventurous investors might be tempted by several glimmers, including strong sales of some medications, which the company said offset flagging Premarin sales. These include antidepressant Effexor, rheumatoid arthritis drug Enbrel, heartburn medication Protonix, and antibiotic Zosyn, as well as well-known over-the-counter favorites like Centrum and Advil. In its conference call (courtesy of CCBN), Wyeth also described a strong pipeline, with a dozen drugs in Phase III trials.

In the call, Wyeth also distinguished itself from many of its big pharma counterparts in its assertion that none of its core brands face generic competition this coming year, or for several years thereafter.

Regardless, it's difficult to ignore some of the hard luck that has befallen Wyeth. And for the next six months anyway, the tough times seem likely to continue -- not to mention, a misstep like last year's high-flying FluMist sales projections gives another reason for caution. For investors, the best medicine may be to wait out Wyeth's rough winter for proof of a healthier spring.

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Alyce Lomax welcomes your feedback via e-mail.