So what do I think makes for a good pharmaceutical stock idea? I'd argue you need three ingredients -- a good sales force, a deep pipeline, a solid history of strong returns on capital -- complemented by an attractive valuation. Enter GlaxoSmithKline
Fourth-quarter results probably won't lead to a lot of breathless hyperbole on TV, but they were still pretty good. Overall revenue climbed 8% on a constant-currency basis, while the operating profit rose about 20%. Even better, free cash flow was up by a nice double-digit percentage -- 26% by the company's calculation.
Not too surprisingly, Glaxo continued to reap good results from many of its top drugs. Compounds including Advair, Valtrex, Coreg, and Lamictal all grew nicely, as did the metabolic-disease and vaccine franchises. While I suppose you could be a bit concerned that Advair has grown to nearly 17% of total pharmaceutical sales, that's still not too bad when you look at how important Lipitor is to Pfizer
Just as important, Glaxo has a very deep pipeline with some high-potential medicines, particularly in oncology. Not only is the company targeting seven product launches for 2006, but as-yet-unapproved products including Cervarix, eltrombopag, and Tykerb all have billion-dollar sales potential as well. And that's to say nothing of other high-profile notions, like a vaccine to fight avian flu.
I would also not be too surprised to see Glaxo make a play for Serono
Glaxo doesn't look like the cheapest pharmaceutical stock out there. That title probably belongs to Pfizer, if you believe it can squeak out cash flow growth from cost-cutting initiatives. But it still looks cheap enough to be rather interesting.
I'm a little overly weighted in drug stocks already, but I think Glaxo should get a thorough look from anyone putting new money into the pharma space.
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).