Medicis (NYSE: MRX), a specialty pharmaceutical company in treatments of dermatological and aesthetic conditions, has the talk going again about dividends in the drug and biotech sector. The company declared a quarter-end cash quarterly dividend of $0.06 payable on April 30, 2010 for holders of record at the close of business on April 1, 2010. This dividend hike is a 50% increase versus the previous $0.04 dividend and the last hike was in March 2008. But what is more important than Medicis is that this brings up the focus on dividends in both the pharma sector and potentially in the biotech sector.
Many investors have seen scores of dividend hikes since the end of December, which is the yardstick for a vote of confidence issued by a company. We have noted two more dividend candidates which are not currently paying dividends:
- Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ: AMGN) as the world’s largest independent biotech stock;
- Warner Chilcott plc (NASDAQ: WCRX) as perhaps the newest and best up and comer in the pharmaceuticals sector.
Neither pay a dividend. Not yet. It would seem that the most likely candidate of the two would be Warner Chilcott because companies like Merck & Co. (NYSE: MRK) and Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) do pay dividends with roughly a 4% yield. Here is a full dividend analysis we gave earlier on the sector.
So far Amgen is opting for share buybacks right now and it has not indicated that it will pay a dividend.
The two key ETF products we use to follow the biotech/drug sector are the Pharmaceutical HOLDRs (NYSE: PPM) and the Biotech HOLDRs (NYSE: BBH). Both have irregular dividends and he biotech is far more sporadic than the pharma HOLDR.
More dividends coming!
JON C. OGG
Many investors have been focusing on the number of dividend raises we have so far seen since the end of December. It is the perfect vote of confidence issued by a company, much more so than a share buyback plan. The dividend means “we will be able to this rate over and over” for investors. There have been very few big moves in the BioHealth arena. We have two very interesting dividend candidates. Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ: AMGN) as the world’s largest independent biotech stock, and Warner Chilcott plc (NASDAQ: WCRX) as perhaps the newest and best up and comer in the pharmaceuticals sector.
Neither pay a dividend. Not yet. It would seem that the most likely candidate of the two would be Warner Chilcott because companies like Merck & Co. (NYSE: MRK) and Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) do pay dividends with roughly a 4% yield. Amgen is opting for share buybacks right now and its peers are not known for being thge greatest of the world’s dividend candidates. We wanted to take a look at each in a deep review of the basics that allow for dividends.
There is a precedent here. The two key ETF products we have used to follow the sector are in the HOLDRs family, which are the oldest of the drug and biotech ETF products. And they are liquid, mostly and usually. The Pharmaceutical HOLDRs (NYSE: PPM) pays dividends, but these are irregular and are dependent upon which shares are making quarterly distributions through each quarter. Then there is the Biotech HOLDRs (NYSE: BBH), which are currently less liquid than what we have seen in the past. Dividends are more sporadic here, but they are present.
Warner Chilcott plc (NASDAQ: WCRX) seems to quietly and rapidly emerging as one of the greatest drug companies on the scene in years. Many pharma and biohealth investors still do not even really know the company. If all goes well and according to plan, the company may be one of the best value stocks out there in the land of pharma and biotech. The company pays no dividend, but after we get a couple of more quarterly adjusted balance sheets and earnings reports behind us it seems as though the company will want to join Merck & Co. (NYSE: MRK) and Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) with a dividend to help further get on the map.
The stock has done very well since it completed the acquisition of the global branded pharmaceutical business from The Procter & Gamble Company (NYSE: PG) on October 30, 2009. Its most recent guidance is as follows for 2010: Adjusted total revenue for 2010 after the impact of its distribution agreement with LEO Pharma A/S in range of $2.9 to $2.95 billion; Adjusted gross margin of 88% to 89%; Total SG&A expenses in the range of $1.2 to $1.25 billion; total R&D in the range of $180 to $200 million; net income of $190 to $215 million; adjusted cash net income in the range of $842 to $867 million; and using 255 million ordinary shares adjusted cash net income per share of $3.30 to $3.40 per share for the full year 2010.
We would think it is safe to assume that the company wants to get a couple more quarters to pass before a dividend is launched, but barring any other mergers we would expect the company to get on the map with a dividend. With shares close to $25.00, a 4% yield would be about $1.00 per year of that $3.30 to $3.40 per share in 2010 earnings. Thomson Reuters has estimates of $3.37 EPS and that would give a forward P/E ratio expected of less than 8-times earnings. An estimated guess is that the dividend will start at about $0.60 to $0.75 per year, for now.
Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ: AMGN) is the world’s biggest independent biotech by market cap. Yet the stock has been stodgy enough and its anemia franchise has been under fire enough that Amgen almost feels like a good old-fashioned Big Pharma stock now. It seems like an unlikely dividend stock on the surface and not just because it wants to be thought of as a biotech that does not pay dividends. So far, the company has chosen to conduct share buybacks to deploy cash and it is not in a hurry to begin paying a dividend.
In the investor Q&A of its investor relations site, the phase is there: “Amgen does not pay a dividend on stock, and does not foresee doing so in the immediate future.” There is an issue though and that is that the expected earnings growth leaves more and more room for Amgen to begin rewarding its shareholders. It recently announced a $5 billion share buyback, on top of the $1.2 billion remaining at the time still authorized for buybacks. But share buybacks were the shareholder-friendly actions of 2007 to 2009. In the new normal, the dividend may matter more to holders who want to get money back from companies. Amgen trades at a mere 11-times 2010 estimates from Thomson Reuters.
We do not want to say that Amgen has been dead money for five years, but it has been very quiet money. For more than 3 years the stock has had a hard time staying above $60 for very long. And for some time we have noted that Amgen is effectively valued more like a Big Pharma stock than a biotech stock. With $5 billion in cash flow and with a mountain of cash, it can afford a dividend on top of its debt and on top of its buyback plans. Both Merck & Co (NYSE: MRK) and Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) yield close to 4%, and Amgen could easily afford to pay close to 2% or $1.00 per share for its initial dividend rate.
There are two issues which would keep Amgen from paying a dividend for years. The first is a big acquisition, but the company likely knows that this would likely take its stock lower as we have seen in most buyer situations. Amgen could also embark on a huge debt pay-off in the future. That is also shareholder friendly. But initiating a dividend, and a noticeable one, might be the best effort the company could make.
JON C. OGG
FEBRUARY 11, 2010