February 7, 2018 / 7:44 AM / 10 months ago

UPDATE 2-Drugmaker Sanofi sees return to profit growth this year

* 2017 net income slightly below consensus

* Sees EPS growth of 2-5 pct in 2018

* Group expects to benefit from U.S tax reform

* Q4 hurt by Dengvaxia provision

* Outlook disappoints, shares down 2 pct (Adds share price, comments, details)

By Matthias Blamont

PARIS, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Sanofi expects to return to profit growth this year on the back of two recently announced acquisitions and a revamped drugs pipeline, after fourth-quarter earnings were dented by a charge related to its troubled dengue vaccine.

France's largest drugmaker forecast on Wednesday earnings per share (EPS) would grow 2-5 percent at constant exchange rates this year, after a 0.4 percent drop in 2017.

Some analysts, however, said the guidance fell short of hopes and Sanofi shares were down 2.1 percent in early trading to touch their lowest since June 2016.

"FY’18 EPS guidance at mid-point, including the impact of acquisitions, is 3 percent below consensus at December rates, but we estimate 4 percent below at current exchange rates," analysts at investment bank Jefferies wrote in a note.

The group should benefit from a cut in U.S. corporate tax, with Sanofi predicting its tax rate would be around 22 percent in 2018, down from 23.5 percent last year.

The company struck two big takeover deals last month, agreeing to buy U.S haemophilia specialist Bioverativ for $11.6 billion and Belgium's Ablynx, which is developing a prized experimental drug for a rare blood disorder, for 3.9 billion euros ($4.8 billion).

The transactions mark a return to successful deal-making for Sanofi after failures to land major takeovers since 2011, when it bought U.S biotech company Genzyme for around $20 billion, although some investors questioned the costs.

The deals will complement Sanofi's rare diseases business, while its diabetes sales continue to suffer from generic competition, especially in the United States, the world's largest health market.

In the fourth quarter, sales at the group's diabetes and cardiovascular unit were down nearly 20 percent.

Sanofi said it had booked an impairment of 87 million euros related to Dengvaxia, its dengue vaccine currently at the centre of a health scare in the Philippines, in the fourth quarter.

The company announced in November that Dengvaxia - the world's first dengue vaccine - might increase the risk of severe disease in people who had never been exposed to the virus.

A Philippine government agency on Monday filed a lawsuit against Sanofi, seeking compensation for the parents of a 10-year-old girl the agency said had died as a result of receiving Dengvaxia.

"The Dengvaxia question of course is very worrisome to us. But we have not seen any reaction similar to the one in the Philippines in other countries," Sanofi Chief Executive Olivier Brandicourt told journalists.

"We are worried with this insistence of trying to link some deaths of children with the vaccine, something we have absolutely no evidence of," he said.

Dengvaxia has been approved in almost 20 countries. It is currently under review by European health regulators.

Fourth-quarter business net income fell 10.8 percent at constant exchange rates to 1.33 billion euros. Total sales rose 4.1 percent to 8.7 billion euros.

Analysts polled by Reuters in partnership with Inquiry Financial had on average been expecting business net profit of 1.46 billion euros and net sales of 8.7 billion.

$1 = 0.8069 euros Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Mark Potter

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