Zacks Investment Research cut shares of Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK) from a buy rating to a hold rating in a research report released on Thursday morning.

According to Zacks, “Merck’s third-quarter results were strong, with the company beating on all fronts and slightly raising both its sales and earnings outlook for the year. The latest FDA approval of Keytruda for the first line treatment of metastatic lung cancer should sharply improve the drug’s sales. New products, especially Keytruda should continue to contribute meaningfully to the top line. Merck has also made significant progress with its pipeline and is working on bringing new products to the market. Merck will continue to focus on cost-cutting initiatives to drive the bottom line. The company has also been pursuing acquisitions and business development deals to boost its pipeline. However, generic competition and pricing pressure will continue to pressurize the top line. Nasonex and Cubicin lost patent exclusivity in 2016 which is hurting sales.”

Several other research firms have also commented on MRK. Vetr lowered shares of Merck & Co. from a buy rating to a hold rating and set a $64.84 price objective for the company. in a research note on Monday, October 10th. Piper Jaffray Cos. reissued a neutral rating and issued a $62.00 price objective (up previously from $58.00) on shares of Merck & Co. in a research note on Monday, August 8th. Deutsche Bank AG raised their price objective on shares of Merck & Co. from $58.00 to $59.00 and gave the company a hold rating in a research note on Monday, August 8th. Jefferies Group raised their price objective on shares of Merck & Co. from $53.00 to $57.00 and gave the company a hold rating in a research note on Monday, August 8th. Finally, Credit Suisse Group AG raised shares of Merck & Co. from a neutral rating to an outperform rating and raised their price objective for the company from $62.00 to $73.00 in a research note on Sunday, August 7th. Thirteen research analysts have rated the stock with a hold rating and nine have given a buy rating to the stock. The company has an average rating of Hold and an average price target of $66.24.

Analyst Recommendations for Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK)

Shares of Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK) opened at 61.80 on Thursday. The firm has a market cap of $170.39 billion, a price-to-earnings ratio of 31.56 and a beta of 0.76. The stock has a 50 day moving average of $61.61 and a 200-day moving average of $60.15. Merck & Co. has a 1-year low of $47.97 and a 1-year high of $65.46.

Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK) last posted its quarterly earnings data on Tuesday, October 25th. The company reported $1.07 EPS for the quarter, beating the Thomson Reuters’ consensus estimate of $0.99 by $0.08. Merck & Co. had a net margin of 13.76% and a return on equity of 24.25%. The business earned $10.50 billion during the quarter, compared to analyst estimates of $10.17 billion. During the same quarter last year, the firm posted $0.96 earnings per share. The business’s revenue for the quarter was up 4.6% compared to the same quarter last year. Equities analysts anticipate that Merck & Co. will post $3.78 EPS for the current fiscal year.

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The firm also recently announced a quarterly dividend, which will be paid on Monday, January 9th. Stockholders of record on Thursday, December 15th will be issued a $0.47 dividend. This represents a $1.88 dividend on an annualized basis and a dividend yield of 3.04%. This is a boost from Merck & Co.’s previous quarterly dividend of $0.46. The ex-dividend date is Tuesday, December 13th. Merck & Co.’s payout ratio is presently 93.88%.

In other Merck & Co. news, Director Rochelle B. Lazarus sold 20,000 shares of the business’s stock in a transaction on Wednesday, November 2nd. The shares were sold at an average price of $59.06, for a total value of $1,181,200.00. Following the transaction, the director now directly owns 9,594 shares of the company’s stock, valued at approximately $566,621.64. The sale was disclosed in a filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission, which is accessible through this link. Also, Chairman Kenneth C. Frazier sold 140,000 shares of the business’s stock in a transaction on Thursday, November 10th. The shares were sold at an average price of $65.03, for a total transaction of $9,104,200.00. Following the completion of the transaction, the chairman now directly owns 514,957 shares in the company, valued at $33,487,653.71. The disclosure for this sale can be found here. 0.05% of the stock is currently owned by insiders.

A number of institutional investors have recently made changes to their positions in the stock. Squarepoint Ops LLC boosted its position in shares of Merck & Co. by 129.8% in the first quarter. Squarepoint Ops LLC now owns 75,483 shares of the company’s stock valued at $3,994,000 after buying an additional 42,638 shares in the last quarter. Logan Capital Management Inc. boosted its position in shares of Merck & Co. by 21.0% in the first quarter. Logan Capital Management Inc. now owns 328,465 shares of the company’s stock valued at $17,380,000 after buying an additional 56,951 shares in the last quarter. Avalon Advisors LLC boosted its position in shares of Merck & Co. by 1.1% in the first quarter. Avalon Advisors LLC now owns 522,566 shares of the company’s stock valued at $27,649,000 after buying an additional 5,754 shares in the last quarter. Cypress Capital Group boosted its position in shares of Merck & Co. by 25.7% in the first quarter. Cypress Capital Group now owns 29,697 shares of the company’s stock valued at $1,571,000 after buying an additional 6,075 shares in the last quarter. Finally, Clear Harbor Asset Management LLC boosted its position in shares of Merck & Co. by 93.2% in the first quarter. Clear Harbor Asset Management LLC now owns 85,740 shares of the company’s stock valued at $4,537,000 after buying an additional 41,370 shares in the last quarter. 72.55% of the stock is currently owned by institutional investors.

About Merck & Co.

Merck & Co, Inc is a global healthcare company. The Company offers health solutions through its prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies and animal health products, which it markets directly and through its joint ventures. It operates through one segment, Pharmaceutical. The Company’s Pharmaceutical segment includes human health pharmaceutical and vaccine products marketed either directly by the Company or through joint ventures.

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