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AstraZeneca warns of hit from coronavirus spread

ALEX LAWSON
Reuters

Pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca today warned that the coronavirus outbreak would hit its revenues.

The FTSE-100 drugsmaker said that, depending on the severity of the spread of Covid-19, total sales will increase “by a high single-digit to a low double-digit percentage” if it lasts a few months.

The City had been expected a mid-to-high-teens percentage rise and the shares tumbled as much as 6%, before settling down 174p, or 2%, at 7460p.

Shore Capital analyst Adam Barker said: “AstraZeneca has been proactive in trying to forecast the outcome in its guidance, which is why the shares have come off today.

“In the event that it’s not as bad as feared, there’s an upside for the shares.” Barker pointed out rival GlaxoSmithKline had not attempted to quantify the virus’s impact in its revenue guidance.

China accounts for around 20% of Astra’s revenues and the company has 16,000 staff in the country.

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“Astra was one of the first big companies in China and it has been a strong growth area, although the US, Japan and EU remain its key markets,” said Barker.

Astra’s total annual sales rose 10% to $24.4 billion (£18.8 billion) last year, aided by growth in new medicines, but profits were down 14% at $2.9 billion.

The World Health Organisation today said the number of coronavirus cases is not rising dramatically outside China, leaving stock markets treading water.

Around 65,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus worldwide. In Singapore oil giant Shell sent some staff on its trading desk home as a precaution after it emerged an employee had had contact with a coronavirus case.

HSBC, which employs 21,000 people in Hong Kong, said one of its employees is under government quarantine as a relative has the virus.

The banking behemoth is contacting staff who may have been in contact with the worker.

In London it emerged that a person who attended last week’s UK Bus Summit at the QEII Centre in Westminster has since been diagnosed with coronavirus.

The conference was attended by industry executives including David Brown, the chief executive of Go-Ahead.