* Expects 2012 sales of $2.2 bln vs. $2 bln in 2011
* Q4 loss $606 mln, mainly on probe settlement provision
* Q4 sales up 79 pct to $759 mln
MUMBAI, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd , India's biggest drug maker by revenue, said it expects sales to increase by at least 10 percent in 2012 as it takes advantage of expiring drug patents in the United States, its biggest market.
Ranbaxy, which launched a generic version of cholesterol drug Lipitor in the U.S. market in December, reported a fourth-quarter loss equivalent to $606 million, mainly due to a provision related to a probe by the U.S. Justice Department.
Sales, however, soared 79.2 percent to $759.37 million in the quarter to Dec. 31 from a year earlier, and were up 16.6 percent at $2.02 billion for the full year.
The pace of growth is expected to slow in the coming year, with the company forecasting sales of about $2.2 billion.
"The revenue guidance looks quite realistic," said S.Ranganathan, head of research at LKP Securities in Mumbai.
"However, it does not include opportunities that might come from inorganic growth or product exclusivity ... so the growth might be actually higher," he said.
The reference to exclusivity refers to the 180 days that generic drugmakers are allowed to market a drug in the United States if they are first to win approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Ranbaxy, majority owned by Japan's Daiichi Sankyo Co , said it had set aside $500 million as a provision towards settlement of an investigation related to compliance issues at manufacturing plants in the United States and India.
Ranbaxy agreed last month to make broad changes at the plants as part of the investigation, which began in 2009.
"The settlement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and provision for eventual penalties that may be levied, brings greater predictability to our business in the U.S.," Chief Executive Arun Sawhney said in a statement.
The Justice Department has said problems included lack of proper record-keeping and failing to take steps to prevent contamination of drugs. It also accused the company of making false statements to the drug regulator.
The launch of a generic version of Pfizer's $10 billion a year cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor in the United States on Dec. 1 helped Ranbaxy more than triple its North America sales to $407 million in the quarter.
Smaller rival Sun Pharmaceutical Industries reported a 47 percent rise in North American sales over the same period, while Dr Reddy's Laboratories more than doubled its sales in the region.
Indian drugmakers, which account for about a third of applications to sell generic drugs in the United States, are expected to double their sales in that market to about $5 billion over the next five years, Morgan Stanley has said.
Drugs worth more than $140 billion are likely to go off patent globally in that period.
Ranbaxy's European sales totaled $75 million, while sales in its home market amounted to $95 million.
Shares of Ranbaxy, which has a market value of about $3.85 billion, closed 0.43 percent higher at 440.3 rupees after the results were released.
The stock fell 21.2 percent in the quarter, when the company first said that it would take a charge related to the U.S. investigation.