I'll also be asking whether these negative factors make this FTSE 100 pharmaceuticals giant a poor investment today.
GSK's long-run total return for shareholders (capital appreciation and dividends over the past 10 years) has lagged behind that of the average FTSE 100 company. Furthermore, as the table below shows, GSK has been one of the poorer performers among its European big pharma peers.
over 10 years
GSK, like all the established big pharma companies, faces what it calls "intense competition" from generic products within all of its major markets. This is particularly true of the U.S., where GSK has its highest turnover and margins, both of which are now under pressure from generics.
The U.S. accounts for almost a third of group turnover, and in addition to the squeeze from generics, the country's health care reforms are also putting pressure on GSK's margins.
Finally, the company's diversification into consumer health care has implications for group margins: the operating margin for pharmaceuticals and vaccines is running at over 36%, but the margin within the over-the-counter business is half that.
Concentration of risk
Another issue for GSK in the U.S. is that the sale of most of its products are made to a small number of wholesalers. In fact, more than 80% of the group's U.S. pharmaceuticals and vaccines turnover comes from just three wholesalers.
Trade receivables due from these three (that's the money they owe GSK) amounted to 815 million pounds -- the equivalent of 17 pence a share -- at the latest reckoning. This concentration of credit risk could potentially, as GSK says, "materially and adversely affect the Group's financial results."
A poor investment?
Many of the issues GSK faces are felt across the whole sector. Whether the sum of factors that constitute GSK's particular variation on the theme put the company in a better or worse position than its peers is a moot point.
Two of the world's top investors aren't prepared to argue it. Instead, they prefer to hedge their bets in a sector where the theoretical strength of the different companies' drugs pipelines isn't a reliable guide to which products will actually turn out to be the biggest winners.
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G.A. Chester has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends GlaxoSmithKline. 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.