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Gilead Sciences Wants to Make Being a Shareholder Worth It

By Todd Campbell - Feb 13, 2016 at 7:00AM

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Huge buybacks and a commitment to dividend increases make this one of the market's friendliest biotech companies.

Source: Flickr user stockmonkeys.com.

A tripling in revenue during the past few years means that Gilead Sciences (GILD -0.10%) is kicking off record cash flow. Fortunately for investors, Gilead Sciences' management plans to make sure a big chunk of that money ends up benefiting shareholders. The company has returned 75% of its free cash flow to investors since 2010, and a new buyback and dividend increase suggest that that payout rate isn't likely to change dramatically anytime soon.

Billions in buybacks
After putting the wraps on a three-year, $5 billion buyback program announced in 2014 that management completed early, Gilead Sciences announced a new five-year share repurchase program last February. The new buyback authorized the company to spend $15 billion on share repurchases through 2019; but much like the plan that preceded it, management is on pace to finish up this program ahead of schedule, too.

In 2015, Gilead Sciences spent $10 billion buying back a whopping 95 million shares, including $3.1 billion that it spent in the fourth quarter. Overall, Gilead Sciences came out of 2015 with only $8 billion remaining on its $15 billion program.

The company's appetite for buybacks isn't shrinking either. Gilead Sciences has already committed $5 billion of the remaining $8 billion to an accelerated buyback agreement that's expected to complete in the next three months. With only $3 billion remaining on the $15 billion authorization, Gilead Sciences' Board of Directors announced yet another buyback plan recently -- this time for $12 billion.

Given that Gilead Sciences has reduced its share count by more than 20% in the past five years, and the pace of buybacks remains torrid, it seems that shares will continue to benefit from a buyback tailwind, at least into 2017.

Dishing out dividends
Last February, Gilead Sciences joined Amgen (AMGN -0.25%) as the second big-cap biotech company to pay dividends to its investors.

Gilead Sciences' $0.43 per share quarterly dividend meant that the company returned $1.9 billion to investors last year. To put that in perspective, consider that amount is about two-thirds of the $3 billion that Gilead Sciences spent on R&D last year.

In 2016, the company will pay even more money to investors in dividends. This time, investors will receive $0.47 per share every quarter. Given the recent drop in Gilead Sciences' share price, that works out to a dividend yield that's above 2%. Granted, Amgen's 2.62% yield is still higher, but Gilead Sciences is certainly moving in the right direction.

Cash in the coffers
Gilead Sciences CFO Robin Washington said on the company's fourth-quarter earnings conference call that "the plan is to continue to return a significant component of free cash flow to shareholders via share repurchases and increases to our dividend over time." Given that Gilead Sciences' cash war chest surged to $26 billion in 2015 from $11.7 billion in December 2014, there's plenty of financial flexibility to make good on that promise.

In fact, it would appear that the only thing that could derail management's plans would be a big acquisition. Newly appointed CEO John Milligan has indicated he'll consider an acquisition, and if its big enough, then it could result in a suspension of Gilead Sciences' buyback program.

However, investors can probably rest easy because Milligan also said he'd only consider the right deal at the right price. If that's the case, then his focus probably isn't on a moon shot; instead it's on finding a company that can deliver the kind of value necessary to fuel even greater shareholder-friendly cash flow in the future.

Todd Campbell owns shares of Gilead Sciences. Todd owns E.B. Capital Markets, LLC. E.B. Capital's clients may have positions in the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends 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.

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Stocks Mentioned

Amgen Inc. Stock Quote
Amgen Inc.
AMGN
$251.47 (-0.25%) $0.62
Gilead Sciences, Inc. Stock Quote
Gilead Sciences, Inc.
GILD
$63.08 (-0.10%) $0.06

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