At first glance, Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) appears a worthwhile contrarian trade. We’re talking about one of the world’s biggest drug-makers, so any downturn is likely a discounted opportunity. Additionally, the overall markets have been soft, allowing shrewd investors to pick up PFE stock at a more attractive valuation.
Since closing at $38.66 near January-end, PFE has dropped 6%. On a year-to-date basis, shares have gone nowhere, moving up less than 1%. With the company’s flagship drugs like Prevnar and Viagra losing patent exclusivity, management faces significant headwinds. As a result, many analysts are questioning whether Pfizer stock, at its present cost, is worth the risk.
Our own Tom Taulli recognizes the steep challenges that lay ahead. Nevertheless, he’s cautiously optimistic on PFE stock, primarily because of its growth story. Granted, over the past few years, revenues have disappointed shareholders. But Taulli argues that the company invested substantially into its therapeutics pipeline. Moreover, it levers a respectable portfolio, including “Ibrance (a cancer drug), Prevnar 13 (a vaccine for pneumococcal) and Xeljanz (an immunology drug).”
Certainly, PFE isn’t going down without a fight. Prior to Viagra losing its patent exclusivity late last December, the pharmaceutical giant developed its own generic version. I like the thinking here, as Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:TEVA) and Mylan NV (NASDAQ:MYL) were on the prowl.
Taulli mentions other positives for Pfizer stock, including favorable tax treatment and a generous dividend yield. The former reason in particular has strong forward-looking implications, because PFE can use the extra funds to boost core investments.
But despite these positives, PFE stock hasn’t been a great trade. For example, the company lost Viagra exclusivity on Dec. 11 last year. Shares increased a mere 1.2%.
Moving forward, I’d still be very cautious about Pfizer stock.
PFE Stock Is All Potential, No Substance
There is a saying: talk is cheap. I’m sure that Pfizer’s executives are focused on growth. What else are they going to say, that they’re focused on sinking the company? The issue here is that we’re not seeing any evidence that their strategies will work favorably for PFE stock.
InvestorPlace contributor Will Healy points out that Pfizer posted surprisingly strong numbers in its most recent fourth-quarter earnings report. Healy writes:
The company tends to surprise on earnings. For fourth quarter 2017, Pfizer reported earnings of 62 cents per share, beating estimates by 6 cents per share. Revenue for the quarter came in at over $13.7 billion, $20 million higher than expected. EPS improved from the 47 cents per share number reported in 4Q 2016.
However, he rightfully mentioned that “revenues only increased by 0.5% year-over-year,” and that’s my problem with Pfizer stock. It’s not just a one-off pedestrian performance, but affirms a long string of disappointing results.
Going back to Q1 2011, we have only seen seven quarters where revenues increased on a year-over-year basis. If you’re doing the math, that’s seven quarters against 28 total, a lowly 25%. Furthermore, when sales are increasing, the growth averages only 7.3%. That’s just not going to cut it when 75% of the time, revenue growth is negative.
True, the last two quarters produced YOY gains. Unfortunately, neither in Q3 nor in Q4 was that gain higher than 1%. Plus, the last four quarters’ sales growth averaged -0.54%.
I’m not trying to be a jerk here, but these are not the metrics the company needs. Unless the company has a miracle product in the pipeline, PFE stock faces significant downside risk.
Too Many Obstacles Ahead for Pfizer Stock
The follow-up question is what PFE has in its pipeline. Unfortunately, Healy states that nothing special exists in their product portfolio. And without that excitement, it’s hard to see analysts supporting Pfizer stock at current valuations.
Furthermore, we should consider that revenue growth was non-existent when Pfizer enjoyed patent exclusivity on their flagship drugs. Now that many are don’t, I doubt that the growth situation will improve. Of course, never say never, especially with a mega-pharmaceutical. Still, it’s a serious risk factor to consider before going all-in.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to investor sentiment. While management is doing what it can to push forward, Pfizer’s competitors have better risk-reward profiles. That’s going to keep me on the sidelines until they can definitively prove their growth strategy.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.