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Original Source: FD (FAIR DISCLOSURE) WIRE
OPERATOR: Good afternoon. My name is Marcus and I will be your conference facilitator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the Chiron first quarter 2004 financial results conference call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers' remarks, there will be a question and answer period. [Operator Instructions] I would like to introduce Mr. Martin Forest, Vice President of Corporate Communications and Investor Relations. Sir, you may begin.
MARTIN FOREST, VP, CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS AND IR, CHIRON: Thank you Marcus. Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to Chiron's first quarter 2004 conference call. On behalf of the Chiron team, I would like to introduce you to our principal speakers. Howard Pien, Chiron's CEO and President, and David Smith, Chiron's CFO. I will be available after the call along with the investor relations team to follow up with any questions that you might have. Before I turn the call over to Howard for his discussion of Chiron's results I'd like to remind you that our remarks today will include forward looking statements related to future events and the financial performance of the Company. Actual events and performance may differ materially from our expectations. We refer you to the documents that the Company has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which are available through our website at Chiron.com. These include the 2003 10K report, the first quarter of 10-Q report which will be available shortly in information under the heading "Factors That May Affect Future Results" in the MD&A portion of our periodic filing. This information identifies important factors that could cause the Company's actual performance to differ from current expectations. Please note that where we indicate a number to be pro forma in today's discussions we have made available a reconciliation of pro forma to GAAP in the condensed consolidated statement of operations attached to our press release issued today. The reconciliation for the fourth quarter, along with the reconciliation of pro forma to GAAP for prior quarters, is also available on the website. Consistent with regulation FD we do not undertake an obligation to update the forward-looking information we're giving today. And, finally, please note that this call is being electronically recorded and is copyrighted by Chiron. No reproductions, retransmissions, transcripts or copies of this conference call can be made without the written permission of Chiron. With that as a preface, I'll turn the call to you, Howard.
HOWARD PIEN, PRESIDENT, CEO, CHIRON: Good afternoon and welcome to our call. Today, Chiron announced its first quarter earnings results. In today's call, I will talk to you about our progress to date, informing you of the status of some of our key milestones and provide you with the details of some of the key developments.
Chiron is off to a strong start for the year. We have made excellent progress to advance key clinical programs. Through our investment strategy, we continue to lay the groundwork for enhancing future value with shareholders. At the same time, we are maintaining Chiron's record of solid financial performance. We are reiterating our pro forma earnings guidance for the year of between $1.80 and $1.90 per share for 2004.
2004 is unfolding as a year in which we continue to execute on our strategy for both the near term and the long term entirely consistent with our plans. Our growth trajectory is highlighted by our rise in the (indiscernible) ranking of No. 912 in 2002 and No. 769 in 2003. Driving our growth last year was the acquisition and successful integration of Powderject which has positioned Chiron as the number two provider of flu vaccines worldwide and which provides us exciting opportunities for our future growth. As we move into 2004, we will continue to fulfill our agenda, providing creation and long-term growth while still aiming to deliver a long-term EPS growth of 20 percent.
Regarding our first quarter. Today, we reported first quarter pro forma income from continuing operations of 22 cents per share. Revenues grew 24 percent year-over-year to $380 million. All three businesses performed in line with our expectations this quarter and our earnings for the quarter reflect both the growth and investments in each of our units.
During the earnings call last quarter, we indicated that the traditional seasonality of our earnings will be even more pronounced with the acquisition of Powderject and our enhanced investment agenda. While we do not give quarterly guidance, we're cognizant that this quarter's earnings are below the consensus number. We want to emphasize that when we look at the growth of our businesses for the entire year, we are confident in our ability to deliver solid financial results, completely consistent with our previously stated guidance.
Now, later in the call, David will provide more details of the contours of our financials into the first and second halves so as to give you greater clarification on this amplified seasonality.
Now back to the progress of each of our businesses and why we are positive about our prospects for this year. Let me begin with the blood testing unit. Our blood testing business is advancing on two tracks. The core of the business is our NAT franchise. The franchise continues to expand both in these geographies and through the introduction of the new assays. While Craig's (ph) is making inroads into new geographies particularly in the Pacific Rim where we are already established in such countries as Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. We recently won a contract with the triplex assay with a major blood center in Korea accounting for about one-third of Korea's annual donations.
We're also anticipating expansion this year in Thailand. Our position in Asia paves the way for the future introduction of Ultrio. Since hepatitis B is endemic in this part of the world, it represents a significant threat to blood safety. In addition, we're entering new markets in Europe as well, in particular Poland and Greece.
Ultrio achieved CD markings early in this year and is undergoing a successful launch. Uptake of the new product among our existing customers has been going well.
They are now telling us that they're pleased with the convenience and sensitivity of the triplex assay that adds hepatitis B to the pre-existing HIV and HC (ph) tests. We're also moving ahead with our plans to file a BLA for Ultrio later this year. Clinical trials in the U.S. have commenced on the Tigris fully automated system, a key enabling technology for small accrual sizes and individual donor testing. This automation will also provide greater throughput and more operational efficiency with blood centers and other existing NAT technologies.
In addition, as the mosquito season has now started, we're moving forward with clinical trials for our West Nile virus assay. This innovation has detected over 800 positive blood donations since its introduction last June. And the predictions are that this year will see the spread of the virus towards the West Coast. We're on track to move as rapidly as possible for a BI submission for the assay.
Blood testing is also expanding its reach into the realms of blood safety through the end licensing of technologies. We are progressing with the development of technologies from IBI for bacteria detection in platelets and from (indiscernible) quest for blood type conversion.
Now onto our vaccine business. The flu vaccine business should continue to grow this year and our production for the '04/'05 season is now well underway. The CDC has chosen the three strains for this year's vaccine and we are comfortable that we will be able to meet our goal …