BERLIN (AP) -- The demand for the liquid crystals used in flat-screen televisions and computer monitors helped push first-quarter net profit at Merck KGaA more than three times higher, the company said Wednesday.
The German drug and chemical maker based in Darmstadt said it had a net profit of euro191.4 million ($254.4 million) in the first quarter of this year, a big increase from the euro56.7 million it earned in the first three months of 2009.
The first-quarter figure was weighed down, however, by the arrangement of financing for Millipore Corp. in the U.S., the company said. Merck announced it would buy the life sciences company for euro5.3 billion at the end of February.
The overall increase in profit came as revenues at the company, which also makes the cancer drug Erbitux and multiple sclerosis treatment Rebif, rose nearly 13 percent to nearly euro2.1 billion in the January-March period compared with nearly euro1.9 billion a year earlier.
"Although we don't expect 2010 will be easy, we did start the year off quite well, especially in our chemicals business," Chief Executive Karl-Ludwig Kley said.
Because of the improved results in its liquid crystals division, Kley said Merck expects its pretax profit to rise between 30 and 40 percent in 2010, while overall sales should rise between 3 and 7 percent.
Despite the increases, investors pushed Merck shares 2 percent lower to euro63.03 in Frankfurt trading, part of a wider decline on the DAX, which has been roiled by fears of the Greek crisis spreading across Europe.
The company's figures were bolstered by a big jump in revenue at its liquid crystals division, which makes the crystals used in flat-panel televisions that help improve picture quality, provide higher contrast and better brightness.
The unit saw revenues of nearly euro239 million in the quarter and is counting on its PS-VA liquid crystals becoming the preferred choice for high-end, pricier displays. DisplaySearch, a market research organization, expects global shipments of LCD TVs to increase 24 percent to some 180 million units this year.
Merck's liquid crystal unit is already supplying material for use in 3-D glasses that are used with newly available 3-D television sets that are coming to market.
Merck, which is not related to the U.S. company, said that its pharmaceuticals business showed good growth, too, with revenues up 7 percent to euro1.4 billion. The figure was helped in part by an increase in the global sales of its Rebif and Erbitux drugs, which rose 17 percent to euro429 million and 19 percent to euro192 million, respectively.