Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK) was upgraded by Zacks Investment Research from a “hold” rating to a “buy” rating in a research note issued to investors on Friday. The brokerage currently has a $70.00 price target on the stock.

According to Zacks, “Merck’s efforts to expand its pipeline and focus on core areas of expertise are encouraging. New products especially Keytruda should contribute meaningfully to the top-line. Merck has also been pursuing acquisitions and business development deals to boost its pipeline. Merck will also continue to look toward cost-cutting initiatives to drive the bottom-line. Investor focus will remain on the performance of the company’s hepatitis C virus (HCV) treatment, Zepatier, label expansion of Keytruda and business development deals. Estimates have been moving up lately ahead of the company’s Q3 earnings release. The company has a positive record of earnings surprises in recent quarters. However, the top-line will remain under pressure mainly due to increased competition as well as generic competition. “

A number of other analysts have also weighed in on MRK. Argus restated a “buy” rating and set a $65.00 target price on shares of Merck & Co. in a research note on Wednesday, September 14th. BMO Capital Markets restated a “market perform” rating and set a $62.00 target price on shares of Merck & Co. in a research note on Tuesday, August 2nd. Barclays PLC restated an “overweight” rating on shares of Merck & Co. in a research note on Wednesday. Jefferies Group upped their target price on shares of Merck & Co. from $50.00 to $53.00 and gave the stock a “hold” rating in a research note on Thursday, July 14th. Finally, Piper Jaffray Cos. restated a “neutral” rating and set a $62.00 target price (up from $58.00) on shares of Merck & Co. in a research note on Monday, August 8th. Twelve investment analysts have rated the stock with a hold rating and ten have issued a buy rating to the company’s stock. The company currently has an average rating of “Hold” and a consensus target price of €65.05 ($72.28).

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

Shares of Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK) opened at 62.51 on Friday. The company has a 50-day moving average of $62.57 and a 200-day moving average of $58.63. The firm has a market capitalization of $172.85 billion, a PE ratio of 34.29 and a beta of 0.68. Merck & Co. has a 1-year low of $47.97 and a 1-year high of $64.86.

Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK) last issued its quarterly earnings results on Friday, July 29th. The company reported $0.93 earnings per share (EPS) for the quarter, topping the Zacks’ consensus estimate of $0.91 by $0.02. The company had revenue of $9.84 billion for the quarter, compared to analyst estimates of $9.79 billion. Merck & Co. had a net margin of 13.01% and a return on equity of 23.41%. The business’s revenue for the quarter was up .6% compared to the same quarter last year. During the same period in the prior year, the firm earned $0.86 earnings per share. Equities research analysts predict that Merck & Co. will post $3.75 EPS for the current fiscal year.

The company also recently declared a quarterly dividend, which was paid on Friday, October 7th. Stockholders of record on Thursday, September 15th were given a $0.46 dividend. This represents a $1.84 dividend on an annualized basis and a dividend yield of 2.94%. The ex-dividend date was Tuesday, September 13th. Merck & Co.’s dividend payout ratio is currently 101.10%.

In other news, Chairman Kenneth C. Frazier sold 392,000 shares of the firm’s stock in a transaction on Friday, August 5th. The stock was sold at an average price of €61.81 ($68.68), for a total value of €24,229,520.00 ($26,921,688.89). Following the completion of the transaction, the chairman now owns 760,877 shares in the company, valued at €47,029,807.37 ($52,255,341.52). The sale was disclosed in a document filed with the SEC, which is available at this link. Also, insider Weir Mirian M. Graddick sold 40,800 shares of the firm’s stock in a transaction on Monday, October 3rd. The shares were sold at an average price of €62.07 ($68.97), for a total value of €2,532,456.00 ($2,813,840.00). Following the completion of the transaction, the insider now owns 128,973 shares of the company’s stock, valued at approximately €8,005,354.11 ($8,894,837.90). The disclosure for this sale can be found here. 0.05% of the stock is owned by insiders.

Several hedge funds and other institutional investors have recently made changes to their positions in the stock. Emerald Acquisition Ltd. purchased a new position in shares of Merck & Co. during the second quarter worth $274,347,000. Orbis Allan Gray Ltd purchased a new position in shares of Merck & Co. during the first quarter worth $239,761,000. Ameriprise Financial Inc. boosted its position in shares of Merck & Co. by 24.1% in the second quarter. Ameriprise Financial Inc. now owns 22,992,642 shares of the company’s stock worth $1,324,996,000 after buying an additional 4,468,488 shares in the last quarter. Bank of Montreal Can purchased a new position in shares of Merck & Co. during the second quarter worth $250,542,000. Finally, Boston Partners boosted its position in shares of Merck & Co. by 23.8% in the second quarter. Boston Partners now owns 19,034,299 shares of the company’s stock worth $1,096,566,000 after buying an additional 3,655,639 shares in the last quarter. Institutional investors and hedge funds own 72.93% of the company’s stock.

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.

5 Day Chart for NYSE:MRK

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