Dividend paying companies are a key part of any investor's long-haul portfolio, but investors that lean toward high growth industries like biotechnology have few dividend-paying options. Despite multibillion dollar a year blockbuster drugs and jealousy-inspiring margins, Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD), Celgene Corp (NASDAQ:CELG), and Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB) have all passed on returning money to shareholders via dividend payments. Here's why.
Big money for a big market
Gilead Sciences sales have soared thanks to new hepatitis C treatments that cure more people, faster, with fewer side effects.
Since launching Sovaldi for hepatitis C last December, Sovaldi has generated more than $8 billion in sales for Gilead Sciences through September. Sovaldi, its next generation successor Harvoni, and a growing HIV drug franchise that dominates its market have lifted Gilead Sciences' sales during the first nine months of 2014 to $17.2 billion, up from $7.7 billion in 2013. At the same time, Gilead Sciences' pricey drugs are being leveraged against fixed costs for significant margin growth. The company's operating margin jumped from 45.2% in the third quarter of last year to 62.6% in the third quarter of this year and that's swelling Gilead Sciences' balance sheet. The amount of cash on the company's books has leapt from $2.6 billion exiting December to $7.7 billion coming out of Q3 and that's raised dividend investors hopes that Gilead Sciences might consider paying a dividend.
However, it's likely that dividend hopefuls will be disappointed. The company has enjoyed considerable success investing its cash into next generation, market-share-boosting HIV therapies and acquisitions. For example, Gilead Sciences' Complera and Stribild, two HIV combination pills launched in 2011 and 2012, respectively, are on track to become billion dollar blockbusters this year. And Gilead Sciences' $11.2 billion acquisition of Pharmasset in 2012 is what brought Sovaldi to Gilead Sciences in the first place. Based on those successes, it would be surprising if Gilead Sciences didn't keep that money around for the next pipeline or acquisition opportunity.
Spreading the love
Elite large cap biotechnology companies make their chops by dominating a particular indication, and Celgene is no different. The company's $5 billion a year multiple myeloma drug Revlimid has been a runaway success, and it continues to post double digit year-over-year growth. In the third quarter, Revlimid's sales jumped 19.4% worldwide from a year ago to $1.3 billion, leading Celgene to report total sales for the quarter of $1.9 billion, up 19.1% from last year.
Similar to Gilead Sciences, rising demand for Celgene's drugs is providing profit friendly earnings growth that gives Celgene an enviable balance sheet. The company's net income jumped from $669 million in the third quarter of 2013 to $806 million last quarter, leading to a 24% lift in adjusted earnings per share. As a result, Celgene is sitting on $6.8 billion in cash.
But before dividend investors get too excited, Celgene is also unlikely to start paying a dividend anytime soon. That's because Celgene is having tremendous success using that money to bulk up its product line.
In 2010, Celgene spent nearly $3 billion acquiring Abraxis in order to get its hands on the cancer drug Abraxane. Following a label expansion to include pancreatic cancer in 2013, sales of Abraxane have taken off, reaching $212 million in the third quarter, up 25% from a year ago. That has Celgene guiding investors to expect full year Abraxane revenue will total $850 million this year, up 31% from 2013. Celgene is also enjoying sales success for its home-grown Pomalyst, a third line therapy for multiple myeloma that won FDA approval in 2013 and generated sales of $478 million through the first nine months of this year, up 159% year over year.
Those successes have led to Celgene inking a flurry of licensing and equity deals with emerging biotech companies that it hopes will pay off big in the future. Among those deals are ownership stakes in OncoMed, Epizyme, Acceleron, and Agios -- all companies that have seen their share prices make impressive moves this year. Since Celgene appears committed to partnership strategies, it probably won't break from that approach to pay a dividend either.
Protecting a moat
While Celgene dominates the multiple myeloma indication, Biogen is a market leader in multiple sclerosis treatment. Biogen's Avonex, a drug that treats MS relapses, has turned Biogen into a biotechnology Goliath with a $77 billion market cap and $10 billion in annualized revenue.
Despite winning FDA approval back in 1996, Avonex remains incredibly successful with sales totaling $2.27 billion during the first nine months of this year. But Avonex isn't Biogen's only MS drug. Biogen also markets Tysabri, a drug with $500 million in sales last quarter, and Tecfidera, an oral MS drug that won FDA approval in 2013 and is already selling at a nearly $3 billion a year clip.
Thanks to those drugs, Biogen has reported earnings per share of $8.67 through the first three quarters of 2014, up considerably from the $5.93 it earned in the period last year. As a result, Biogen has $1.8 billion in cash on the books exiting September, but that money is unlikely to head back to investors in the form of dividends. The market for MS drugs is increasingly competitive, with top selling therapies being marketed by Teva Pharmaceuticals, Novartis, and Sanofi. That competition has Biogen focused on developing new MS drugs and branching out into other indications. For example, earlier this year the company launched Alprolix and Eloctate, two drugs for the treatment of hemophilia B, which contributed $46 million to the top line last quarter. Biogen has also inked partnership deals with Isis Pharmaceuticals and Amicus Therapeutics in the past year to develop neurology drugs for ALS and Parkinson's disease, respectively.
Growth for now
Although Gilead Sciences, Celgene, and Biogen all have the products, cash flow, and financial strength to pay a dividend, each appears committed to plowing money back into growth programs rather than returning money to investors via dividend payouts. For now, that means that investors interested in these companies will need to remain focused on whether their investments for the future will pay off in the form of higher share prices, rather than the potential for a dividend.
Todd Campbell owns shares of Gilead Sciences, Celgene, and Biogen. Todd owns E.B. Capital Markets, LLC. E.B. Capital's clients may or may not have positions in the companies mentioned. Todd owns Gundalow Advisors, LLC. Gundalow's clients do not have positions in the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Celgene, Gilead Sciences, Isis Pharmaceuticals, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. The Motley Fool owns shares of Gilead Sciences. 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.