Reflections on the Biotech Earnings Bonanza: LLY, NVO, GILD

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Biotech earnings season is now in full swing. As I highlighted in my last article, I think it's key to think globally in terms of the sector's growth prospects. So, without further ado, here is my take on three biopharmaceutical companies that reported earnings recently.

Lowered expectations at Eli Lilly
Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY  ) is seeing revenues fall off a cliff along with its patents for Cymbalta and Evista. Although the company saw modest revenue growth in 2013 of 2%, Lilly's management confirmed that revenues will fall markedly this year because of increasing generic competition for Cymbalta.

Turning our attention to the fourth quarter of 2013, revenues fell 2% compared to a year ago, mostly due to a 38% drop in Cymbalta sales. This massive drop in Cymbalta revenues were offset, however, by higher than expected sales of other products, especially Cialis and Humalog.

Looking to 2014, Lilly believes earnings will drop somewhere around 34-36% this year, which was the range Wall Street was expecting. On a positive note, the company does have five product candidates under regulatory review and another eight clinical candidates in late-stage development. So, there is a chance that an approval could boost guidance sometime this year. That said, I wouldn't expect Lilly to continue its share buyback program at its current pace and a dividend cut isn't out of the realm of possibility.

Gilead Sciences beats fourth quarter estimates, low-balls 2014 guidance
Perhaps one of the most talked about stocks in biotech these days is Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD  ) . Gilead announced earnings earlier this week, beating analysts' estimates of earnings per share by 5%. Analysts and investors alike, however, are a tad disappointed by the release after Gilead's management didn't provide guidance on the company's new hepatitis C drug Sovaldi.

Despite numerous attempts by analysts during the Q&A, management continually stonewalled questions on the matter, saying it's still "early days" there are "too many unknowns". That said, management did give investors some good news on the Sovaldi front by announcing a roughly 1% reduction in the effective tax rate for every billion dollars in sales.

Sans Sovaldi sales, Gilead still expects 2014 revenues to grow by a healthy 6.4% or about $700 million, mostly because of its growing HIV franchise. Management also announced an Aug. 6th PDUFA date for the company's experimental leukemia drug idelalisib, giving investors even more to look forward to this year.

Turning back to Sovaldi sales, analysts certainly weren't shy about their predictions for 2014 sales earlier in the day. Baird's Brian Skorney, in particular, suggested that Sovaldi sales could exceed $5 billion this year alone, and his sentiment was echoed by a handful of other firms.

Taking these estimates at face value and doing some rough back of the envelope calculations, $5 billion would boost Gilead's annual revenues around 50%. So, if you were wondering what all the fuss is about, there you have it. Now, we have to wait to see if these optimistic estimates pan out in the coming months.

Novo Nordisk misses estimates but still sees healthy growth
Danish biopharma Novo Nordisk's (NYSE: NVO  ) fourth quarter net profits missed analyst estimates by 3.3%, due in large part, to decreasing operating margins in some markets. Even so, the company saw stellar growth for its diabetes franchise, led by a 27% increase in Victoza sales. On the back of this strong quarterly and yearly performance, Novo's management has decided to increase its dividend by 25% and to initiate a new round of share buybacks this year.

Novo's management is not exactly resting on its laurels, however. Last December, the company filed applications in the U.S. and EU for Victoza as a potential treatment for obesity, with a focus on patients with Type 2 diabetes. In late-stage trials, patients saw an 8% average weight loss when taking Victoza, putting it ahead of Arena Pharmaceutical's Belviq but slightly behind VIVUS's Qsymia. Overall, there are a number of good reasons to keep Novo Nordisk on your radar this year.

Foolish earnings breakdown
My brief earnings survey paints a healthy picture for the sector going forward. Most companies are beating estimates and are increasing guidance for 2014. That said, Eli Lilly shows the dangers of the ongoing patent cliff, with its earnings expected to fall dramatically. Another key theme this earnings season is lower effective tax rates. Alexion and Gilead are both beneficiaries of lower taxes, and I expect this trend to spread across the sector as companies look for ways to combat pricing pressure driven by austerity measures. Overall, this earnings snapshot should impress upon you that demand for health care products is still growing, and large biotech companies will likely command a premium in terms of share price as a result.


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George Budwell

George Budwell has been writing about healthcare and biotechnology companies at the Motley Fool since 2013. His primary interests are novel small molecule drugs, next generation vaccines, and cell therapies.

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8/28/2015 4:00 PM
GILD $107.78 Down -0.21 -0.19%
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