Today we continue our high-growth study in search of a quickly growing, promising company to add to the Drip Portfolio -- like adding a blast of helium to a basket of heavyweights.
We've eliminated several companies from our list of potential investments, based mainly on more-subjective measures. The qualities that we seek from our high-growth companies are listed in a recent column, the column where Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) was dropped from the study.
The companies that cleared our first cut so far are eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY), Genentech (NYSE: DNA), Mercury Interactive (Nasdaq: MERQ), Ariba (Nasdaq: ARBA), Openwave Systems (Nasdaq: OPWV), Millennium Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: MLNM), Paychex (Nasdaq: PAYX), and Redback Networks (Nasdaq: RBAK). Any of these could be replaced in the study, however, if we find something we like better. We aim to keep our list of finalists down to a manageable dozen.
The remaining list of contenders still needs much trimming. Today we get the hedge clippers from the tool shed in case we might use them. Remember that, whatever we decide, all of the early cuts are largely based on our own subjective eye and on the more-general, broadbased investment criteria we're using, rather than the detailed criteria, which we'll use in later rounds.
The company on our contender list today is a profitable, respected Maryland biotech firm, MedImmune (Nasdaq: MEDI). Last week, MedImmune reported a 65% increase in fourth-quarter earnings per share on a 37% rise in sales to $238 million. One drug, Synagis -- used for treatment of childhood respiratory-related diseases -- accounts for nearly all of MedImmune's sales. MedImmune sells two other drugs to small market bases, and also has half a dozen products in trials. Its research and development expenses are ample.
MedImmune expects sales to top $600 million this year, and earnings per share to land between $0.80 to $0.85. That would put the $45 stock at about 55 times year 2001 estimates, while earnings should grow about 35%. The company's long-term earnings growth rate estimate is 40%, well above our 25% hurdle. EPS growth of 45% is seen for 2002.
MedImmune is a strong biotech operation, even though only one drug accounts for all of its financial success. (Amgen's (Nasdaq: AMGN) success rides on only two related drugs so far.) MedImmune also has promising drugs in trials, although most are several years from potentially reaching the market. Still, the question for us is one of comparison.
We own shares in Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), and we'll be buying more of it, ideally, over the next 16 years. According to management, when you break out J&J's biotech division, you see that it is the second-largest in the world, second only to Amgen.
Additionally, on our list of finalists is the other largest biotech company in the world, Genentech, and then one of the leading up-and-comers, Millennium Pharmaceuticals. So, we have great, strong biotechs to consider already. Should we add a third to our list of contenders? Would MedImmune bump one of the two existing contenders from the list?
I don't believe so. Here's why.
I'm always cautious of investing in a company that has just one, all-powerful product or service that it relies on. Even buying chip-dependent Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) was a small leap for me, so I'm glad to see Intel diversify into complementary businesses with decent performance potential.
Returning to biotechs, in contrast to MedImmune's single large success, the older Genentech has several hundred-million-dollar drugs on the market, and it has the largest drug pipeline of any biotech, with 18 active candidates. Also diversified, Millennium Pharmaceuticals has $2 billion in contract revenue, mainly for drug discovery work, meaning that it doesn't just focus on drugs. That said, it could have two drugs on the market this year.
Given my investing preferences, to me, these two biotechs have more depth and represent less risk than MedImmune.
MedImmune is valued at $9 billion, while Millennium is at $11 billion and Genentech is $30 billion. MedImmune is a successful biotech company at a forward P/E multiple such that certain investors might want to consider it, but for our purposes here, I believe that we have the biotech sector better represented by three other companies -- J&J, Genentech, and Millennium. Therefore, we can pass on MedImmune in this study. To discuss it, visit us on the Drip Companies board linked above.
We close today with a Fool service announcement: When Brian Graney isn't lip-synching the latest Britney Spears song, he's working on the Small Cap Foolish 8 column. This is great place for you to consider new investment ideas.