The pharma giant decided to cut potential acquisitions from its revenue guidance and instead spend the money on share buybacks. The board increased its share repurchase authorization to $9 billion. The company plans to make $5 billion of those share repurchases this year.
Essentially, Pfizer is saying that it can get a better return by investing in itself and reducing its share count than by purchasing drugs that increase revenue and earnings.
While that's bad news for takeout targets like Clinical Data
Trading around 8.7 times next year's expected adjusted earnings, the buyback should have a positive effect on earnings. Especially since every dollar it spends on share repurchases saves more than $0.04 annually in dividends it doesn't have to pay. I doubt it's making that much leaving the cash sitting in the bank.
I was less impressed with Pfizer's other announcement yesterday that it was slashing its R&D spending forecast for 2012. While that helps raise 2012 earnings, it comes at a cost down the line.
Pfizer's new CEO Ian Read wants to concentrate on research areas that offer the best return on investment. While that sounds good in theory, it'll be awfully hard for a company the size of Pfizer to grow without having its hand in any and all research areas.
Returning capital to shareholders through buybacks is only useful if the company's stock is cheap. And the stock is only cheap at these levels if Pfizer can grow after Lipitor starts to see generic competition. Getting paid a 4.4% dividend yield is OK if there's growth ahead, but it isn't enough to justify owning the company if Pfizer is content letting patent expirations overwhelm new drug launches.