Celgene's (NASDAQ:CELG) fourth-quarter earnings can be a bit of a snoozer because the company typically reports preliminary revenue and earnings numbers at JP Morgan's healthcare conference earlier in January. This year was no different, but we did get some finer details on the numbers and information on potential new drugs on the earnings call.
Sales growth was up 19% year over year in 2014, led by Abraxane, which grew 31% year over year, and Pomalyst, which is approaching blockbuster status despite having just launched in 2013. That growth is coming mostly from additional sales; price increases contributed just 3.4 percentage points of the 19% gain.
Adjusted earnings per share grew by 24%. Investors should be happy any time the bottom line is growing faster than the top; Celgene did it through both a $2.9 billion share buyback and by increasing adjusted operating margins by 220 basis points. A lower tax rate also helped.
Unfortunately, most of that margin expansion -- 180 basis points -- came because research and development expenses as a percent of revenue weren't as high as 2013. There are always fluctuations in research and development expenses from year to year depending on when clinical trials start and finish, so it's not like Celgene is abandoning its long-term potential by cutting research expenses, but the increasing operating margin isn't really because Celgene is actually operating substantially more efficiently.
Adjusted selling, general, and administrative expenses were down just 20 basis points when expressed as a percent of revenue, and product gross margin was up 30 basis points, so these figures are heading in the right direction even if they didn't contribute much to the total operating margin expansion.
Celgene created $2.8 billion in cash flow last year, spending all of it and more on the aforementioned share repurchase. But the company ended the year with substantially more cash in the bank -- $7.55 billion to be precise -- after issuing $2.5 billion in bonds last year. Considering the current cheap price of borrowing, the strategy should work even with Celgene trading at a relatively high P/E. And the nest egg gives the biotech the option to add to its pipeline through licensing deals, not to mention paying milestone payments on all the partnerships it's already established.
Speaking of pipelines, we got a little more information on Celgene's Crohn's disease drug, codenamed GED-0301. The company plans to run three clinical trials to establish efficacy and safety, potentially applying for approval in 2017. One trial will look at endoscopic changes after 12 weeks of treatment, which should give some indication of how well the drug is working, but data from the other two trials won't be available for a while since they involve treating patients for 52 weeks.
To hit its goal of more than $20 billion in sales in 2020 -- an 18% compounded annual growth rate from here -- Celgene needs some of its pipeline drugs to hit. In addition to GED-0301, there are potential expansions of Revlimid, Vidaza, and Otezla into other indications, as well as all those partnerships it's established. Management mentioned anemia drugs from Acceleron Pharma (NASDAQ:XLRN) -- sotatercept and luspatercept -- and cancer drugs from Agios Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:AGIO), so keep an eye out for data on those drugs.
Brian Orelli has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Celgene. The Motley Fool owns shares of JPMorgan Chase. 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.