Will Celgene Trigger Other Biotech Stock Splits?

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Celgene Corp. (NASDAQ: CELG) has decided to join the stock split game. Stock splits do not create any fundamental change on the surface, but the problem that Celgene has faced is that the run up in shares has lowered its average daily volume. The question is whether other biotech stocks will follow suit.

24/7 Wall St. would like to see several competing biotechs join in on the stock split game. We would like to even see the splits more aggressive than the two-for-one split from Celgene.

Before you get too excited here, we do have one obvious thing to say: stock splits change nothing fundamentally. Still, they have historically created excitement around stocks. We think it goes without saying that this bull market could use any excitement it can find. Splitting shares will not create a certainty that trading volumes will rise, but they are not likely to hurt on that front. What these splits could do is to tighten up the bid-ask spread, which would narrow the difference between the prices paid and received by investors.

The first collateral split that we would like to see is Biogen Idec Inc. (NASDAQ: BIIB). This stock is the leader in multiple sclerosis drugs, but the more than $300 share price has lowered volume down to the point that its daily volume is only 1.5 million shares. Biogen is now a $73 billion stock. Our view: split this at least four for one. When shares were under $100, it traded 2 million to 4 million shares per day. In afternoon trading, we noticed that the bid-ask spread was at times $0.30 or even $0.40 per share.

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The second split that needs to take place is Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. (REGN), which trades around $298 per share. That share price handle now comes with an average daily volume of less than 900,000 shares. One thing that Regeneron may claim is that volume has not handily changed, but that is because most investors still do not know the company despite its almost $30 billion market cap. Our view: split this at least four for one now. The bid-ask spread was about 20 cents in afternoon trading.

Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ: AMGN) is not at a crazy price, but at $117 or so its average volume is still only about 3.6 million shares per day. Amgen also pays a dividend yield of about 2.1%. Its price is not likely hampering interest, but a split would increase trading volume. Our take: a two-for-one stock split would get more interest and higher trading volume back in the stock. When shares were under $60, it traded 6 million to 10 million shares per day. Amgen’s bid-ask spread was not that wide, only about four cents in afternoon trading.

Note that many market pundits criticize stock splits. We do admit that they are the equivalent of a “marketing gimmick for stocks.” Still, having a wide bid-ask spread means that investors have a wider loss the moment that that they buy a stock. That doesn’t really seem fair. Warren Buffett has not spoken well of splits, but ultimately he did create a second class of stock in order to better accommodate the BNSF shareholders, a form of a split. Google partially did the same thing, although for a class division of shares rather than for an acquisition.

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