Biotech Giants Now Priced Like Old World Drug Stocks

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Most investors buying Big Pharma stocks these days are buying them for dividends and somewhat of a defensive position against stock market volatility. Investors who are buying biotechs generally are looking for serious growth. So what happens when many of the top biotech stocks are priced like defensive pharmaceutical stocks? A new report from RBC Capital Markets identifies this conundrum in the market today.

RBC pointed out that these top biotechs are trading at some of the lowest forward multiples in years. They also point out that this valuation is very attractive for many investors, potentially even putting these stocks near a floor valuation.

While biotechs generally do not have any great dividends or share buyback plans, even the largest biotech outfits can grow at a compounded annual growth rate of around 25% or so. Big pharma companies face low growth rates and mature markets, hence the high dividends to keep shareholders interested. These are the top names rated as Outperform at RBC that are trading at incredibly low forward multiples.

Gilead Sciences Inc. (NASDAQ: GILD) was the main reason that the biotech sector suffered its sell-off, based on the price inquiry for Sovaldi. Even after still being down by 13% from its peak, Gilead is worth almost $114 billion in market cap now. Price inquiries are not new — just ask Amgen. Gilead has said the new therapy can avoid the long-term medical expenses related to liver failure, cancer and transplants. The RBC team calls Gilead their most compelling buy, trading at only 10 times 2016 earnings. RBC even thinks that earnings will be even higher than current earnings estimates. RBC has a $110 price target, versus a consensus target of almost $98.50. Gilead closed at $73.64 on Tuesday, and shares were up about 0.2% at $73.83 right before the close of trading on Wednesday.

Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ: AMGN) is a top blue chip name in the biotech world. It has grown to be one of the largest independent biotechnology companies, with a $95 billion market value. Amgen has reached millions of patients around the world and is developing a pipeline of medicines with breakaway potential. The company trades at a low 15.2 times forward earnings, and investors are paid a rare 2% dividend. The stock is rated as Outperform at RBC. Its price target is $125, versus a Thomson/First Call consensus target of $132.35. Amgen closed Tuesday at $126.07, and shares were down 0.5% in late Wednesday trading.

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Biogen Idec Inc. (NASDAQ: BIIB) is still a biotech leader, with a $73 billion market cap, but its shares are still down 15% from recent highs. Its stock is trading at 20 times 2015 earnings expectations. While RBC notes that the multiple is more than some of its cheaper peers, the company’s best late-stage pipeline could have the stock up well over $400. That is especially so if Tysabri, its popular drug that treat Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis, hits big. The RBC price target is $400, and the consensus target is almost $347. Shares closed Tuesday at $309.79, and the stock was down 0.5% at $308.25 right before the closing bell on Wednesday.

Celgene Corp. (NASDAQ: CELG) is the maker of the cancer drug Revlimid, and it recently won U.S. approval for a pill to treat psoriatic arthritis. Its market cap is now nearly $60 billion, and the stock trades at 15 times 2015 earnings and an incredible 11 times 2016 numbers. These are valuations that have not been seen for years. RBC’s price target is $210, and the consensus target is up near $193. Celgene closed Tuesday at $146.60, and its shares were up 0.2% right before the close on Wednesday.

RBC’s point here is very clear. Why buy slow growth or no growth big cap pharma when you can buy large cap biotech growth stocks trading at similar multiples? Investors have to keep in mind that these super low multiples are based on earnings projections for one and two years from now. As we all know, that can be a lifetime on Wall Street and Main Street.

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