Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez.

BASEL, Switzerland—Novartis reported Wednesday morning that it is considering various options for its Alcon eyecare division, which it noted “improved basic operations” in 2016’s fourth quarter.

Even with actions to improve sales and “strengthen customer relationships,” Alcon’s operating loss for the full year 2016 totaled $132 million, compared with operating income of $281 million in the prior year, Novartis reported Wednesday in its year-end financial announcement.

“We are reviewing options for the Alcon division to maximize shareholder value,” chief executive officer Joe Jimenez said in the Novartis statement.

The options for Alcon include a spinoff, an initial public offering (IPO) or retaining the Alcon business, Novartis said. The company noted that the review will be conducted during the course of 2017 and “in a manner such that Alcon Division associates can fully focus on the unit's return to growth.” A decision is expected toward the end of 2017.

“Now is the time for us to take a look at what’s in the best interests of Novartis shareholders for that unit,” Jimenez told Bloomberg Television. “This is going to include all options, including retaining the business to exiting the business.”

The company's Alcon division comprises "leading surgical and vision care (contact lens and lens care solution) businesses, both of which are leaders in their respective segments," Novartis said in its statement. Novartis also noted that it believes "the Alcon division is a highly attractive business, with a strong customer base and led by a strong management team."

Novartis also noted that its ophthalmic pharmaceutical portfolio is now fully integrated into the company's innovative medicines division and “will not be part of the review.”

In its financial report, Novartis said its Alcon division “continued to execute against its growth plan in the fourth quarter, taking actions to accelerate innovation and sales, strengthen customer relationships and improve basic operations.”

In the fourth quarter, vision care sales “returned to growth” with a sales increase of 5 percent, driven by strong performance of the daily contact lens portfolio, including continued double-digit growth of Dailies Total 1 globally, according to Novartis. In addition, Novartis said Alcon’s continued investments in direct-to-consumer advertising behind key brands in both Europe and the U.S. “helped drive growth in contact lenses for the third consecutive quarter.”

Overall, Alcon division sales fell 2 percent to $1.4 billion in the fourth quarter, reflecting a 4 percent decline in “surgical sales…due to lower sales of cataract and refractive equipment, as well as competitive pressures in IOLs.”

In its statement, Novartis also outlined four priorities for its businesses in addition to its goal of improving the performance of the Alcon division. They are: deliver strong financial results; strengthen innovation; capture cross-divisional synergies; and build a higher-performing organization.

Overall, Novartis said it “delivered a solid 2016 performance, with growth products absorbing Gleevec’s loss of patent exclusivity” in the U.S. market and innovation momentum continuing.

Fiscal year 2016 sales from continuing operations declined 2 percent to $48.5 billion compared with 2015’s sales of $49.4 billion, according to the financial report. The company’s “core” earnings per share totaled $4.75, a decline of 2 percent. Fiscal year 2016 net income rose 1 percent using constant currencies, “benefitting from higher income from associated companies.”

In addition, Novartis said it will initiate a share buyback of up to $5 billion in 2017 “under existing shareholder authority, reinforcing confidence in growth prospects.”