Why Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc. Shares Popped

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

What: Shares of Ligand Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: LGND  ) , a biotechnology company that develops and acquires royalty rights to pharmaceutical products, gained as much as 15% after the company reported better than expected fourth-quarter results and provided its 2014 guidance.

So what: For the quarter, Ligand Pharmaceuticals reported a revenue increase of 8% to $14.7 million as royalty revenue jumped 48% to $7.1 million. Adjusted net income was $0.35 per share as net income advanced 76% to $1.9 million. By comparison, the Street had only been looking for Ligand to report earnings per share of $0.23, so this was a pretty sizable beat. Ligand attributed its royalty revenue boost to higher sales of Promacta and cancer drug Kyprolis. Ligand also provided mixed forward guidance that includes an EPS forecast of $0.22-$0.25 for the first quarter on $13 million-$14 million in revenue, as well as full-year EPS of $1.40-$1.50 on $62 million-$64 million in revenue. Wall Street had certainly been looking for better first-quarter figures, with EPS estimates of $0.29 and the consensus revenue figure at $15 million. All things considered, though, investors overlooked that weakness by focusing on Ligand's full-year EPS forecast which is well ahead of the $1.12 expected by Wall Street.

Now what: Royalty companies in the biotech and pharmaceutical sector can be quite profitable due to their inherently low costs, but they're also really difficult for analysts on Wall Street to get a good bead on, so I wouldn't be too shocked if Ligand delivers results that are wildly ahead of behind the Street's prognostications. That aside, even though Kyprolis has a bright future, and I fully can appreciate Ligand's dozens of ongoing projects, at 50 times the midpoint of its projected 2014 EPS, and currently without a dividend, Ligand looks far too pricey for my tastes.

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