Healthcare Business

Tracking Dividends in Biotech: Who Follows Amgen in Payouts? (AMGN, PFE, MRK, BIIB, CELG, ALXN, CBST, PDLI, REGN, VRTX)

For several years it has been the case that Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ: AMGN) was considered a biotech though it had at least some of the same problems of Big Pharma players like Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) and Merck & Co. (NYSE: MRK). The difference is that Amgen refused for ages to pay a dividend. 2011 marked a change in its dividend policy.

Amgen’s current dividend is 2.3%, which is rather high for a biotech stock. It also should be noted that the $64.00 price is above the stock’s old former rangebound levels of $50.00 to $60.00. Pfizer currently yields 3.7%, but that is about to rise to closer to 4%, and Merck yields about 4.50% after its dividend hike.

The question for 2012 is simple: Which biotech stocks will be among the second waves to initiate paying a dividend? By our count, these are the biotech outfits that might entertain following Amgen’s dividend path: Biogen Idec Inc. (NASDAQ: BIIB), Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ: CELG), Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: ALXN), Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: CBST), PDL BioPharma, Inc. (NASDAQ: PDLI), Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: REGN), and Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: VRTX).

We would have evaluated the chances of Gilead Sciences Inc. (NASDAQ: GILD) initiating a dividend, but this $11 billion proposed buyout of Pharmasset, Inc. (NASDAQ: VRUS) is likely to keep Gilead tied up for quite some time.

Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: ALXN) is close to all-time highs above $70 and is now worth a whopping $13.2 billion. Estimates are $1.30 EPS for 2011 and $1.66 EPS for 2012, making this one have a much higher valuation while it is still rapidly growing. Some investors may expect that it could start paying out a dividend, but it is too soon by our take today, even with a $445 million balance of cash and liquidity with almost no long-term debt.

Biogen Idec Inc. (NASDAQ: BIIB) has estimates of $5.89 EPS in 2011 and $6.31 EPS in 2012. The company had only about $3 billion in cash and investments at the end of September versus a current market cap of about $27 billion. 2011 was the year that investors decided to give up on worrying about the very rare PML cases in TYSABRI, and that allowed Biogen shares to rise almost 60% in 2011. If Biogen decides to get off the no-dividend bandwagon soon, we would only look for an initial payout of $1.00 on an annualized basis for a while.

Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ: CELG) may still be too new of an earnings story to start expecting a dividend. The earnings estimates are $3.80 EPS in 2011 and $4.51 EPS in 2012. With almost $2.6 billion in cash and investments, its market cap is larger than Biogen’s at $30 billion.

Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: CBST) managed an incredible breakout year as its drugs treat hospital-borne infections, with nearly a 100% share price gain in 2011. The market cap is now about $2.45 billion, and it had nearly $1 billion in cash and liquidity before a recent $221 million acquisition versus about $450 million in long-term debt. Cubist probably could start to pay a dividend if it wants to, but the company has decided to be an acquirer rather than hoarding cash or going defensive. Chances are that it may need to hold on to its cash while it absorbs Adolor and anything else it is considering.

PDL BioPharma, Inc. (NASDAQ: PDLI) has been a dividend payer from its patent royalties, but some payments have been one-time payments until its most recent $0.15 payout for each of the past four quarters. The company also recently forecast a 5% revenue drop and investors are already braced for lower royalty payments. The company recently lost its CFO after only about three years on the job and we really do not like to see CFOs leave biohealth companies. Estimates are $1.18 EPS for 2011 and $1.38 EPS in 2012, but it has about $225 million in cash and liquidity versus a market cap of $867 million. The company may just stick with its current payout structure’s high yield as is until (or if) it can secure another large patent license.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: REGN) is worth some $5.1 billion or so in market capitalization and is fresh off the news that it settled with Genentech over U.S. opthalmic sales of the eye drug EYLEA with a patent case still brewing, but with Regeneron agreeing to pay out $60 million if sales reach $400 million and it will pay royalties out as well. With cash and liquidity of near $500 million at then end of September we think it is a bit premature to ask this one to start shelling out its cash to shareholders yet, considering it is still expected to have a wide loss in 2012.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: VRTX) is so far off of highs now that it seems unlikely investors are expecting much on the dividend front. The company is back on the path of growth after some changes and stumbles, and now its market cap is almost $7 billion. With this one it just feels too soon to expect any dividends in reality. We could analyze all we want, but its new revenue growth is challenged by a cash balance of just over $800 million versus $400 million in long-term debt. What is interesting is that Vertex’s $0.30 EPS expected for 2011 is expected to be $4.55 EPS in 2012. It had a loss of $3.77 EPS in 2010. Maybe after another year or so we can evaluate its future dividend strategy.

After reviewing the great biotech sector’s larger components, it sure does not sound like many other than Biogen Idec Inc. (NASDAQ: BIIB) are really new prime-time dividend candidates for 2012, other than the high payout of PDL BioPharma, Inc. (NASDAQ: PDLI).

JON C. OGG