Amgen (AMGN -0.21%) shareholders sort of got used to mixed results in 2017. While the company's revenue growth was anemic at best, Amgen posted respectable earnings-per-share growth after adjusting for special items. This was the case for the first three quarters of the year.
But the results weren't mixed when Amgen provided an update on its fourth-quarter performance after the market closed on Thursday. And the news wasn't positive. While there were a couple of things for investors to certainly hate about the biotech's fourth-quarter results, there were also a couple of things to like.
Things to hate No. 1: sinking revenue
Amgen continued to experience an overall decline in revenue in the fourth quarter. Total revenue dropped 3% year over year to $5.8 billion. It's easy to spot why.
Sales for Amgen's best-selling product, Enbrel, fell 13% from the prior-year period to $1.37 billion. The autoimmune disease drug faces fierce competition. In addition, Amgen has lowered pricing on Enbrel. The combination of lower unit demand and reduced pricing provided a double whammy.
The company's No. 2 drug, Neulasta, didn't help offset Enbrel's decline. Sales for the drug, which helps prevent infection after chemotherapy treatment, were basically flat year over year.
Things to hate No. 2: flat earnings growth
Speaking of flat and things to hate, Amgen announced flat earnings growth in the fourth quarter. The biotech reported adjusted earnings per share of $2.89 for the period, exactly the same amount that it posted in the fourth quarter of 2016. And the full story is actually worse.
Amgen's adjusted net income dropped 3% year over year to $2.1 billion. Stock buybacks helped the company avoid an adjusted earnings-per-share decline. On a GAAP basis, Amgen reported a net loss in the fourth quarter of nearly $4.3 billion, significantly worse than the $1.9 billion in earnings during the prior-year period. However, the loss stemmed from a one-time $6.1 billion charge related to the impact of U.S. corporate tax reform.
Things to like No. 1: huge cash stockpile
Now for some good news. Amgen continues to generate strong cash flow. Even though revenue and adjusted net income fell in the fourth quarter compared to the prior-year period, the company reported free cash flow of nearly $2.9 billion, just as it did in the fourth quarter of 2016.
This free cash flow helped Amgen increase its cash stockpile to nearly $41.7 billion, including cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities. Most of this amount was made outside of the U.S. The tax reform legislation recently implemented in the U.S. will allow Amgen to repatriate offshore cash at a reduced tax rate.
Things to like No. 2: more share repurchases and higher dividends on the way
Perhaps the best news for shareholders is that Amgen plans to return plenty of cash to them in a couple of ways. The biotech's board of directors approved an additional $10 billion for stock repurchases on top of the existing $4.4 billion in share repurchase authorization as of Dec. 31, 2017. Last year, Amgen bought back $3.1 billion worth of its stock.
Amgen also announced a dividend increase of 15%. This marks the company's seventh consecutive year of dividend hikes. Since the initiation of its dividend program in 2011, Amgen has increased its dividend payout by a whopping 371%. Its dividend now yields 2.76%.
Things to wonder about
I think there are also several things for Amgen investors to wonder about. One such item is whether or not Amgen CEO Bob Bradway's optimism about the company's long-term growth drivers is warranted.
At the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference held in early January, Bradway listed five drugs that he predicted would enable Amgen to grow in the future. Only one of them is currently a blockbuster with solid sales growth -- osteoporosis drug Prolia. However, the jury is still out on cholesterol drug Repatha, multiple myeloma drug Kyprolis, migraine drug Aimovig, and Amgen's biosimilars.
There are reasons for Bradway's optimism, though. Repatha's product label now reflects the drug's potential to prevent heart attack and stroke. Kyprolis could receive a helpful label update showing positive overall survival results, with an FDA decision expected by April 30, 2018. Aimovig should win approval in May.
Perhaps the biggest thing to wonder about, however, is what Amgen might do on the acquisitions front. Bradway acknowledged at the J.P. Morgan conference that there is "potential for doing some attractive business development." The right deal could give investors something else to like about Amgen -- and maybe even love.