View from City Road: Fisons needs remedy for US woes

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FISONS' shares are the worst performers in the Footsie, having more than halved in value since the start of the year.

Most of the collapse took place in June, when the company warned that its interim profits would be half last year's level.

As it turned out they fell by more than that, declining from pounds 95.2m to pounds 40.4m before tax, prompting a further 24p slide in the share price to a new low of 150p yesterday. The outlook for the full year is far from encouraging.

To signal its confidence in the future, the company maintained its dividend despite slim cover. But the 7.7 per cent yield suggests shareholders do not share the board's confidence. They have been let down too often before.

First they heard John Kerridge, the former chairman and chief executive, express optimism about Tilade, but two years later it has yet to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration of the US.

Then they learnt that the paperwork for two drugs that had received approval, Opticrom and Imferon, had not met all important FDA requirements and had to be withdrawn from the US market. A year ago the company said they should be back on the US market within a month, but it still awaits the green light. Meanwhile, Opticrom is selling well in the UK.

The appointment of Patrick Egan as chairman in January was meant to clear the air. But he followed where his predeccesor left off, telling shareholders in March that most of the company's difficulties were behind it. This now looks like a serious misjudgement.

Pharmaceutical profits were down by 66 per cent in the first half, only partly because of the FDA problems. Sales of two other drugs, Intal and Rynacrom, also fell.

In addition the scientific equipment division, formerly run by Cedric Scroggs, the new chief executive, suffered a 37 per cent decline in profits. The only division to report higher profits was horticulture, which is up for sale.

Disposals will come as a relief to distressed shareholders, assuming Mr Scroggs' optimism about proceeds proves well founded. And the planned development of marketing agreements with other drug companies also looks sensible. But shareholders should wonder whether they will make the company difficult to take over. The shares are effectively a punt on Mr Scroggs' ability to get round the company's problems with the FDA.

(Photograph omitted)

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