Michael Becker, Merck's chief financial officer, informed analysts in a conference call about sales and operating profits; sales were up by 42 percent and operating profits by 23 percent in the first five months of the year. Seven analysts and Sascha Becker, who is in charge of investor relations at Merck, took part in the call, the paper writes. Under German share trading law, listed companies are required to "publish immediately" any market-sensitive information, and violations can lead to fines.
While it is common to update analysts between official announcements, providing concrete numbers was "highly uncommon and dangerous", one person familiar with the situation tells the paper.
A Merck spokesman pooh-poohed the report. "The figures were given as an example of a model that includes Serono, which we have acquired. It is difficult for analysts to have comparative figures and those figures were provided as an example of a model for their own calculation. The newspaper report had wrongly given the impression that the figures were handed to a small group of analysts, when in fact 140 analysts participated in the conference call. The data were also distributed to around 1,000 parties in the capital market."
Merck intends to publish official figures for the second quarter on July 25. Germany's regulator, Bagin, says it wants to wait for the company to publish its numbers before assessing whether Merck should have publicised information to all investors at the same time. In the call, Mr Becker asked analysts not to pass the numbers provided to their clients. Merck yesterday confirmed the numbers were "purely illustrative sets of data for the analysts' models".