Given the meltdown we’ve seen across the entire market over the past 16 weeks, many investors may be overlooking company-specific and industry-specific news. One of those pieces of news? That a swath of pharmaceutical stocks are raising their prices in the new year.
Pharmaceutical stocks and biotech companies are interesting plays in any market, partly due to their secular business nature. Meaning that, recession or boom, consumers need treatment. Whether it’s as large as open heart surgery or small as a Tylenol, we pay for healthcare when we need it. For as secular as the group can be though, it has been under tremendous volatility lately.
With that in mind, almost 40 companies started of 2019 with a series of prices hikes. The average raise was roughly 6.3%. So who were these companies and how do we trade their stocks?
Let’s look at a few of those pharmaceutical stocks.
Allergan (NYSE:AGN) is known for its vast drug and treatment portfolio. However, at the turn of the year, Allergan raised prices on 51 of its products. That’s just over half of its portfolio. Of those 51 products, 27 of them saw an increase of 9.5%. The rest were bumped by 4.9%.
All that said, Allergan makes the case that it’s not a money-hungry cash grab. Rather, the company says it should not see any net gains as a result of the price hikes because it’s providing higher rebates and discounts to its distributors.
Allergan may say that, but investors sure wish it would help. Analysts expect sales to fall 1.7% this year and another 1.6% next year. On the earnings front, expectations call for a 90-basis-point gain this fiscal year before a 0.7% decline in 2019. Essentially, estimates call for flat earnings growth overall from fiscal 2017 through 2019.
That’s likely one factor for why the stock has gone from $195 in October to roughly $125 at its December lows. As AGN approaches the $145 to $150 level now, look to see if and where resistance comes into play. There’s downtrend resistance at play, as well as the gap-fill up near $145. It would be encouraging to see the $140-ish level hold as support, but that doesn’t leave much wiggle room for Allergan.
No one is talking about recent dividend payout from Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY), nor are they talking about its recent price increases. The company raised prices on its cancer drugs Opdivo and Yervoy by 1.5%, while lifting prices by 6% on its chemotherapy treatment Sprycel and its autoimmune disease drug Orencia.
BMY was hammered on the news at first, but rebounded by about 4% on Friday once investors were able to digest the news. Management expects the deal to close in the third quarter of 2019. Creating over $2 billion in synergies and boosting growth, BMY management is hoping the acquisition makes its stock more attractive to investors.
At just 12 times forward earnings with 8.5% sales growth and 28% earnings growth this year, BMY already looks reasonable. Throw in its 3.5% dividend yield and its even more attractive.
On the charts, it’s clear that dips down to the upper $40s have been viewed as buying opportunities by investors over the last four years.
Eli Lilly (LLY)
Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) isn’t exempt when it comes to drug price increases, as it raises prices for Jardiance, a treatment for type 2 diabetes, by 6%. Unlike some of its peers, Eli Lilly has been on absolute fire. Shares are up 35% year-over-year and about 60% from its February lows.
Despite the rally, LLY still pays out a 2.2% dividend yield and trades at a somewhat reasonable 20.6 times this year’s earnings. Despite the big breakout rally in July, LLY has modest growth expectations. Analysts expect 6.8% and 4% sales growth this year and next year, respectively. Further, estimates call for 30.4% earnings growth this year and 6.5% growth in 2019.
Fueling the breakout during the summer? A strong second-quarter result and potential IPO for one of its businesses. However, some may feel that LLY stock has rallied too far, too fast and that it’s no longer a worthy buy. According to the charts, that may be the case if LLY is unable to push higher and take out its recent highs near $120.
If it can break that level, the rally can continue. If not, look to see if uptrend support holds (blue line). Should it fail, LLY could be heading for a retest of its 200-day moving average.
Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) delayed various price hikes in 2018, but pushed through its increases at the start of the year. Not many companies have been as open as Allergan about confirming its specific price hikes, but Pfizer may need them to keep pace in 2019.
That is to say, PFE was one of the best-performing stocks in the Dow Jones last year. After consolidating between $30 and $36 for most of the last five years, shares finally broke out around the same time Eli Lilly did.
In fact, their charts look quite similar too.
After a big breakout six months ago, PFE is having trouble pushing higher. Should it fail to get through the 50-day and short-term uptrend support (blue line) gives way, a test of the 200-day moving average could be in the cards. Should it fail as support, a test of $38 is likely in store. Above the 50-day and a rally to $46 is possible.
Investors not worried about the charts will key in on Pfizer’s 3.4% dividend yield and its valuation of 14 times this year’s earnings. Although remember that 2018’s 13.2% earnings growth is expected to slow to just 2.7% in 2019.
Biogen (NASDAQ:BIIB) was also on the list of price increases for 2019. The company increased prices on its multiple sclerosis medications Tecfidera by 6%, Plegridy by 2% and Tysabri by 3.5%.
Like other biotech stocks, Biogen has been volatile and struggling. Nowhere is this more evident than on the charts. Shares went from $370 in February to $250 in a matter of months, then hit nearly $400 per share in late July. Now near $330, BIIB bulls are near a make-or-break point.
The stock has put in a series of lower highs (blue circles) since that big rally in July. Currently, both the 50-day and the 200-day moving averages rest at about $313. Investors who believe BIIB is attractive — trading at about 12 times forward earnings with expectations to grow sales and earnings 2.5% and 8.5% in 2019, respectively — will want to see it hold above these two marks.
Should it fail, Biogen could quickly head to the bottom of its recent channel, somewhere in the $270 range. On the plus side though, if shares push higher and can close above $340, BIIB may be starting a new uptrend.
While Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.B, NYSE:BRK.A) holds a $750 million stake in Teva Pharmaceuticals (NYSE:TEVA), it’s far from his largest holding. Big or small, the Oracle has to be disappointed with the stock’s recent action, falling from $24 in November to less than $15 at its lows last month.
Now up over $17, bulls are hoping Teva stock can continue higher. Will it?
Like the others on this list, Teva also raised prices on some of its drugs this year, although the specifics are not well known. So far the name has done well this year, though granted, were just a few sessions into 2019.
In any regard, Teva is bumping into the backside of prior downtrend support (blue line). Should this level act as resistance, bulls will want $16.75 to act as support. If not, the recent lows are in play. Over resistance and the $19 to $20 level is on the table.
While the stock trades at less than 7 times this year’s earnings, keep in mind that growth has been tough. Sales are forecast to fall 15.8% this year, while analysts expect earnings to contract by 27%. In 2019, the slowdown decelerates, but analysts are still calling for a 4.8% reduction in revenue and a 3% fall in earnings.
Insys Therapeutics (INSY)
Though it is much smaller than most of the names on this list, Insys Therapeutics (NASDAQ:INSY) is joining them in raising prices — in this case, on its pain-relief medication Subsys. INSY has a market cap of just $350 million.
The move is probably necessary, given that sales are forecast to fall about 40.5% this year and another 5% in 2019. It doesn’t help that INSY doesn’t turn a profit, although its lack of debt is encouraging.
Given the selloff we’ve seen in the stock market since the start of Q4 2018, it’s no surprise that investors have cut INSY very little slack. Shares came into Q4 near $10, but are now clinging to the $4.25 level. To say it’s been a rough ride would be an understatement.
However, INSY is holding up over the $4 level and is right at downtrend resistance. A push higher to $5 would be encouraging, even if this level acts as resistance on its first attempt. But a break below $4 — especially in the near-term — would be worrisome and puts the lows back on the table.
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