Mega-Cap Biotechs Cheapest in Years: 4 to Buy for 2017 Gains

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It’s a tired refrain, as we have written about it for over a year, but the beating that the health care sector has taken, especially the biotechs, may be providing the biggest potential winners for 2017. Despite the shrill rhetoric from politicians over drug prices, and the fear of government price controls, the reality is it is very unlikely the Republicans lose the House of Representatives in the upcoming election. While health care policy is unlikely to be favorable for the sector, draconian changes look doubtful.

A recent research note from Jefferies points out that the four largest capitalization biotech stocks are now trading at about 12 times estimated earnings, well below the 16 times for the S&P 500. With the ultimate low for the group historically at 11 times earnings, there appears to be little downside left to the group. Plus the price-to-earnings growth ratio is also extremely low.

Aggressive growth investors should consider positions in the four largest biotech stocks, perhaps nibbling at shares now and filling out positions after the election is over.

Amgen

This biotech giant posted outstanding second-quarter earnings and it remains a top stock for investors to buy. Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ: AMGN) focuses on areas of high unmet medical need and leverages its biologics manufacturing expertise to strive for solutions that improve health outcomes and dramatically improve people’s lives. A biotechnology pioneer since 1980, Amgen has grown to be one of the world’s leading independent biotechnology companies, reaching millions of patients around the world and developing a pipeline of medicines with breakaway potential.

The company posted revenues above expectations and showed strong expense management. It also raised guidance for revenues and earnings, and many on Wall Street think the numbers could be conservative. Amgen also reaffirmed interest in mergers and acquisitions activity as a way to sustain long-term growth.

Many on Wall Street point to the company’s tremendous pipeline and outstanding forward earnings and revenue capabilities. Amgen’s double-digit earnings and revenue growth rate is expected to continue for the foreseeable future because of the company’s very deep clinical pipeline, which includes potential blockbusters Repatha for high cholesterol and Kyprolis for relapsed multiple myeloma. Amgen also has one of the industry’s deepest biosimilar pipelines, which is expected to generate upward of $3 billion in annual sales in the years ahead.

Amgen shareholders receive a 2.48% dividend. The Wall Street consensus price target for the stock is $189.41. Shares closed Wednesday at $161.08.

Biogen

Many top analysts are very bullish on this large cap biotech, even though the stock is down almost 40% from highs printed in March of 2015. Biogen Inc. (NASDAQ: BIIB) discovers, develops and delivers to patients worldwide innovative therapies for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, hematologic conditions and autoimmune disorders. Founded in 1978, Biogen is one of the world’s oldest independent biotech companies, and patients worldwide benefit from its leading multiple sclerosis (MS) and innovative hemophilia therapies.

While many on Wall Street acknowledged in the past that the company’s core MS drug market is facing challenges going forward, with most diagnosed patients now treated, payers limiting net benefits from price increases and competing entrants expected. With those issues in mind, the firm is still positive on Tysabri, especially for secondary-progressive MS, with upcoming clinical data a big factor.

The analysts also feel that a combination of cost reductions in tandem with the still strong MS franchise, which may not be as challenged by competitors as some on Wall Street think, can help the company beat earnings estimates this year. With a strong pipeline, the stock is a solid choice for aggressive growth investors. Biogen posted outstanding earnings in July, and the stock has rallied sharply on rumors of a buyout by a large pharmaceutical company

The consensus target price is $341.79. The stock closed Wednesday at $295.14.

Celgene

This is another top large cap pick with big upside potential. Celgene Corp. (NASDAQ: CELG) has an outstanding partnered pipeline, which most think is low risk and has the potential to yield several blockbuster drugs. Certain Wall Street analysts also think the company can grow earnings 15% on a compounded annual growth rate basis going forward. Otezla, which treats psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, had achieved considerable prescriptions among physicians, but the scripts have slowed after a solid launch, showing the importance for sales outside of the United States.

Celgene’s blockbuster blood cancer drug Revlimid continues to dominate. Pomalyst sales also continue to be solid. Cancer drug Abraxane is also growing at a respectable rate, so the company continues to have a strong lineup of top-selling drugs.

The company reported outstanding second-quarter results with revenues up 21% year over year. In addition, the company raised sales guidance to $11 billion on strong growth across most major products driven by 16% in demand and 6% in pricing. Upcoming catalysts include GED-0301 endoscopy study in Crohn’s disease with top-line results expected to be released soon.

Wall Street analysts have noted that the company has discussed at their recent conference the benefits of longer duration Revlimid. Celgene has a very compelling pipeline, and with four existing Phase 3 trial assets, that may add strong new drugs and revenue prior to the end of the decade.

The consensus price target is $137.39. The shares closed Wednesday at $100.02.

Gilead Sciences

This company is trading at an astounding multiple of less than seven times estimated 2016 estimated profits. Gilead Sciences Inc. (NASDAQ: GILD) discovers, develops and commercializes medicines in areas of unmet medical need in North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific. Its products include Stribild, Complera/Eviplera, Atripla, Truvada, Viread, Emtriva, Tybost and Vitekta for the treatment of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in adults; and Harvoni, Sovaldi, Viread and Hepsera products for the treatment of liver disease.

Second-quarter total revenues met consensus and earnings-per-share beat on strength in Sovaldi/HIV franchise. 2016 product sales guidance was lowered. HCV sales missed due to pricing, unfavorable payer mix, lower patient starts and shorter treatment duration. Share buybacks are expected to be lower for the rest of 2016, and many on Wall Street think that could suggest willingness for pipeline acquisitions.

Top analysts think that a spin-off of the hepatitis C silo of the business is entirely possible as the declining predictable revenues have weighed on the company’s overall valuation. While not a given, a transaction could improve long-term growth and improve the positive impact of a future acquisition or pipeline success.

Investors receive a 2.56% dividend. The consensus price target is $101, and shares closed at $73.34.

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These top companies have been absolutely hammered and now trade at a valuation much lower than large cap pharmaceuticals. The big difference is they have the potential to have much higher growth rates. As mentioned, it may be smart to scale in some here and fill up after the election.