Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK) was the target of a large increase in short interest in October. As of October 31st, there was short interest totalling 74,746,962 shares, an increase of 330.8% from the October 15th total of 17,352,254 shares. Based on an average trading volume of 14,632,587 shares, the days-to-cover ratio is presently 5.1 days. Currently, 2.8% of the company’s stock are short sold.

Several equities analysts have commented on MRK shares. Guggenheim started coverage on shares of Merck & Co., Inc. in a research report on Monday, October 8th. They set a “buy” rating on the stock. Credit Suisse Group lifted their target price on shares of Merck & Co., Inc. from $71.00 to $81.00 and gave the stock an “outperform” rating in a research report on Thursday, October 11th. Zacks Investment Research cut shares of Merck & Co., Inc. from a “buy” rating to a “hold” rating in a research report on Monday, October 1st. Morgan Stanley set a $74.00 target price on shares of Merck & Co., Inc. and gave the stock a “buy” rating in a research report on Thursday, August 23rd. Finally, Barclays lifted their target price on shares of Merck & Co., Inc. from $75.00 to $78.00 and gave the stock an “overweight” rating in a research report on Friday, October 12th. Four analysts have rated the stock with a hold rating and fourteen have assigned a buy rating to the stock. Merck & Co., Inc. presently has a consensus rating of “Buy” and a consensus price target of $71.92.

In related news, Chairman Kenneth C. Frazier sold 279,851 shares of the firm’s stock in a transaction dated Tuesday, September 18th. The shares were sold at an average price of $70.08, for a total value of $19,611,958.08. Following the transaction, the chairman now owns 971,801 shares of the company’s stock, valued at approximately $68,103,814.08. The sale was disclosed in a legal filing with the SEC, which is available through this hyperlink. Also, EVP Adam H. Schechter sold 107,360 shares of the firm’s stock in a transaction dated Monday, September 17th. The shares were sold at an average price of $70.18, for a total transaction of $7,534,524.80. Following the completion of the transaction, the executive vice president now directly owns 100,000 shares in the company, valued at approximately $7,018,000. The disclosure for this sale can be found here. In the last ninety days, insiders sold 1,279,104 shares of company stock worth $92,845,846. 0.32% of the stock is owned by insiders.

Several hedge funds have recently modified their holdings of the company. BlackRock Inc. grew its stake in Merck & Co., Inc. by 0.5% in the 2nd quarter. BlackRock Inc. now owns 185,546,933 shares of the company’s stock valued at $11,262,699,000 after buying an additional 831,243 shares in the last quarter. Bank of New York Mellon Corp grew its stake in Merck & Co., Inc. by 184,252.6% in the 3rd quarter. Bank of New York Mellon Corp now owns 38,985,039 shares of the company’s stock valued at $2,765,600,000 after buying an additional 38,963,892 shares in the last quarter. Janus Henderson Group PLC grew its stake in Merck & Co., Inc. by 64.3% in the 3rd quarter. Janus Henderson Group PLC now owns 20,519,549 shares of the company’s stock valued at $1,455,653,000 after buying an additional 8,032,634 shares in the last quarter. Morgan Stanley grew its stake in Merck & Co., Inc. by 0.9% in the 2nd quarter. Morgan Stanley now owns 15,905,834 shares of the company’s stock valued at $965,485,000 after buying an additional 149,438 shares in the last quarter. Finally, Macquarie Group Ltd. grew its stake in Merck & Co., Inc. by 19.5% in the 2nd quarter. Macquarie Group Ltd. now owns 14,733,548 shares of the company’s stock valued at $894,326,000 after buying an additional 2,406,836 shares in the last quarter. Institutional investors own 72.32% of the company’s stock.

Shares of MRK stock opened at $74.86 on Friday. The company has a quick ratio of 1.04, a current ratio of 1.44 and a debt-to-equity ratio of 0.61. Merck & Co., Inc. has a 12-month low of $52.83 and a 12-month high of $75.99. The company has a market cap of $202.43 billion, a PE ratio of 18.81, a P/E/G ratio of 2.04 and a beta of 0.73.

Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK) last issued its quarterly earnings results on Thursday, October 25th. The company reported $1.19 earnings per share (EPS) for the quarter, topping the Thomson Reuters’ consensus estimate of $1.14 by $0.05. Merck & Co., Inc. had a net margin of 8.44% and a return on equity of 34.48%. The company had revenue of $10.79 billion during the quarter, compared to analyst estimates of $10.87 billion. Equities analysts forecast that Merck & Co., Inc. will post 4.34 earnings per share for the current fiscal year.

Merck & Co., Inc. announced that its Board of Directors has initiated a stock buyback program on Thursday, October 25th that authorizes the company to buyback $10.00 billion in shares. This buyback authorization authorizes the company to buy up to 5.1% of its stock through open market purchases. Stock buyback programs are generally an indication that the company’s leadership believes its stock is undervalued.

The business also recently declared a quarterly dividend, which will be paid on Tuesday, January 8th. Stockholders of record on Monday, December 17th will be paid a dividend of $0.55 per share. The ex-dividend date is Friday, December 14th. This represents a $2.20 annualized dividend and a dividend yield of 2.94%. This is a positive change from Merck & Co., Inc.’s previous quarterly dividend of $0.48. Merck & Co., Inc.’s dividend payout ratio (DPR) is presently 48.24%.

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About Merck & Co., Inc.

Merck & Co, Inc provides healthcare solutions worldwide. It operates in four segments: Pharmaceutical, Animal Health, Healthcare Services, and Alliances. The company offers therapeutic and preventive agents to treat cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, asthma, nasal allergy symptoms, allergic rhinitis, chronic hepatitis C virus, HIV-1 infection, fungal, intra-abdominal infections, hypertension, arthritis and pain, inflammatory, osteoporosis, and fertility diseases.

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