Merck is expecting a promising 2004, predicting a profit increase of about 7% on a per-share basis, despite problems with research and the expiration of foreign patents on Zocor, its top seller. The drug company is benefiting from higher sales of several major drugs, including Fosamax and Singulair, but analysts are concerned about the company's health in 2006, when Zocor loses U.S. patent protection.

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