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Merrill Downgrades Gen-Probe to 'Neutral'


Merrill Lynch downgraded Gen-Probe (GPRO) to neutral from buy on valuation.

Analyst Timothy Lee says year-to-date, Gen-Probe is the top performing stock in his Medical Technology coverage universe, rising 165% after a 59% gain in 2002. The factors leading to the rise include an emerging opportunity in screening tests for the West Nile Virus; increasing visibility on the timing of the Tigris (a proprietary system that will automate nucleic acid testing); and rising earnings estimates.

Lee sees $1.25 2003 earnings per share, and $1.60 earnings per share in 2004. He thinks Gen-Probe's prospects are robust, but at 39 times his 2004 earnings per share estimate, he believes Gen-Probe could take a breather from its upward ascent and trend sideways, allowing for earnings to grow into the stock price.


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