Today's Top Health Care Stocks to Watch: AbbVie, GlaxoSmithKline, and Shire

Today's top biotech and health care stories.

Jul 17, 2014 at 8:45AM

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Let's take a look at today's top stories in biotech and health care. Keep an eye out for AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV)GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK), and Shire (NASDAQ:SHPG).

AbbVie and Shire's proposed merger under scrutiny from the White House
The flood of U.S.-based pharma companies seeking foreign addresses has apparently caught the attention of President Obama and he's none too happy. According to a number of reports that surfaced late yesterday, the White House is seeking a ban on so-called "tax inversion" deals that would be retroactive in nature. In effect, the ban would apply to any deal made as of May this year. 

Although legislation addressing tax inversion looks unlikely to pass ahead of the forthcoming congressional elections, the news did send shares of AbbVie and Shire down sharply at one point yesterday. AbbVie and Shire are reportedly close to agreeing to a $54 billion merger, which would cut AbbVie's effective tax rate roughly in half. Given that Shire's share price has risen over 30% since rumors of a possible deal first hit the Street, investors are clearly worried that this political initiative could gain traction.

My view is that the White House's calls for a ban will more than likely fall on deaf ears in Congress. At the end of the day, I think it will be difficult to garner the necessary political will to tell corporations that they are not allowed to change their address if they so desire -- irrespective of their underlying reasons for doing so. By contrast, the President's desire to open a dialogue about the corporate tax rate that is ultimately driving this immigration may be a fruitful avenue down the road.  

Department of Justice looking into "pattern of corruption" at GlaxoSmithKline
Glaxo is in hot water again over its growing Chinese bribery scandal. The Department of Justice, or DoJ, is reportedly investigating whether a "pattern of behavior" exists at the British-based pharma after the company admitted that some of its employees were involved in similar scandal in China back in 2001.

Specifically, members of Glaxo's vaccine unit were reportedly bribing Chinese officials and taking kickbacks, resulting in 30 employees being fired once the illicit activity came to light. As a refresher, Glaxo is presently being investigated in the U.S., U.K. and China after a 10-month probe turned into allegations that top-level managers were bribing Chinese doctors and hospitals to increase sales. 

What's important to understand is that the DoJ could decide to increase any forthcoming penalties -- including fines, if a pattern of corruption is established. And investors definitely shouldn't shrug off this possibility, given that Glaxo already got slapped with a $3 billion fine by the DoJ back in 2012 over its marketing practices for about a half dozen drugs.

Perhaps even more concerning is how this scandal will ultimately influence sales growth in China, which has been one of the strongest emerging markets for Glaxo in recent quarters. With Glaxo set to report earnings next week, we are likely to learn more about any internal or external controls that have been put into place in order to keep this problem from creeping up yet again. So, stay tuned!  

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George Budwell has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Baxter International. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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