No matter what you think about Novartis (NYSE:NVS), you can't accuse its management of being lazy. Last year, Novartis purchased vaccine developer Chiron, divested its nutrition division, and purchased biopharmaceutical firm NeuTec.

And for 2006, sales were up 15% to $37 billion, although excluding sales from acquisitions like Chiron's vaccine division showed a more modest gain of 8%. On Novartis' bottom line, though, earnings were up 17% and earnings per share were $3.06 for the year. Net margins were almost 20%, which is impressive considering that relatively lower-margin generic drug sales from the Sandoz division were a bigger portion of revenue because of acquisitions in this segment.

For 2007, the guidance isn't as positive as Novartis' 2006 results were. Barring acquisitions that could boost sales, revenues are expected to increase "at a mid- to high-single-digit rate" and pharmaceutical drug revenues will only grow in the single digits, as well after slow growth of 11% in 2006.

Because branded drugs sales accounted for 60% of revenues, or $22 billion, last year, Novartis' top line turns on the fortunes of its drug compounds. Even though sales gains will be modest this year -- its fifth-best-selling drug, the $1 billion-a-year antifungal treatment Lamisil, faces generic competition -- there are some new products that may spark sales growth later in the year.

Novartis will roll out Lucentis, a treatment for macular degeneration, in Europe, and based on Genentech's (NYSE:DNA) U.S. sales of the drug, it could easily bring more than $1 billion a year to Novartis' top line by the end of 2008. This year, the company is also awaiting word from the Food and Drug Administration on possible marketing approval of potential blockbuster drugs Galvus for type-2 diabetes and Tekturna for high blood pressure. Whether these products gain approval or not will set the stage for Novartis' sales for the next several years.

Trying to place a value on Novartis is a tough thing to do now, what with so many important drugs awaiting regulatory review, and its addiction to acquisitions and divestitures making financial comparisons between the years tough. Shares of Novartis definitely aren't cheap, based on the trailing 20 times P/E multiple or stagnating free cash flow, but then again most of the large pharmaceutical companies don't have so many new products on the horizon. Investors who wait to buy shares later in the year at a cheaper price probably won't get that option if Galvus and Tekturna are approved, so for more risk-tolerant types, now might be a good time to think about buying.

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Fool contributor Brian Lawler does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.