Big Pharma's Fall Slows the Dow's Momentum

The Dow Jones ticks higher, but Merck and Pfizer lead a large corps of blue-chip laggards

Dan Carroll
Dan Carroll
Apr 30, 2014 at 2:30PM

The lack of surprises from today's Federal Open Market Committee meeting has the market on course for modest gains today, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) has gained about 30 points as of 2:30 p.m. EDT. However, most blue-chip members of the index have fallen into the red today, and no stocks are being hit more than Big Pharma. Pfizer's (NYSE:PFE) stock has dropped more than 0.9% to lead the Dow's corps of losers, while Merck (NYSE:MRK) shares are down 0.6%. Let's catch up on what you need to know.

FOMC continues quantitative easing pullback
The Federal Open Market Committee announced at 2 p.m. that it had voted to further reduce bond-buying measures, bringing the monthly purchase amount to $45 billion from its maximum of $85 billion. No surprise there considering that the U.S. economy has built up strength recently -- though through this year's first quarter, gross domestic product did not quite live up to its billing. Real U.S. GDP climbed just at an annualized rate of 0.1%, barely registering growth at all with the harsh winter slamming construction and business investment. Surprisingly, consumption was up 3% for the quarter despite the harsh winter, although utilities spending accounted for a big portion of that gain. Analysts expect growth to churn higher by an annualized rate of 3.5% in the second quarter, but consumers will need to spend more on goods than the 0.4% mark seen through the end of March.

Pfizer's stock has jumped around since the company confirmed its interest in rival drugmaker AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN), but shares slumped today after British Parliament members announced they intend to investigate the U.S. company's acquisition interest. Given that AstraZeneca so far hasn't expressed interest in being acquired by its competitor, this new development won't put a full stop to Pfizer's merger plans. However, it could make the company's path harder in trying to make what likely would be the largest acquisitions in Big Pharma history.

For Pfizer investors, however, today's stock fall serves as a cautionary flag that a potential megabuyout of AstraZeneca might not be all that it's hyped as. While Pfizer would receive a significant bonus to future tax purposes by incorporating in the U.K., AstraZeneca has struggled mightily recently with declining sales from the patent cliff. While the company boasts an intriguing pipeline for Pfizer's interest, most of the drugs under development are some time away from possible regulatory approval. Pfizer's taking a risk with its $100 billion, although this deal's far from a sure bet so far. Keep an eye on how this major buyout talk develops.

Merck's stock has taken a hit despite an update in the race from rivals to purchase Merck's up-for-sale consumer health business. German rival Bayer (NASDAQOTH:BAYRY) has offered both cash and assets from its animal health and drug business for the group and has also proposed launching a joint venture into these areas with Merck -- two options that could intrigue the American company, which boasts one of the largest animal health businesses in Big Pharma. Merck could earn up to $14 billion for its consumer health sale, according to Bloomberg, so don't expect this company to jump into any offer with numerous suitors at its door.