Does Recent Weakness in AbbVie Stock Make It a Buy? 3 Pros, 3 Cons

AbbVie stock - Does Recent Weakness in AbbVie Stock Make It a Buy? 3 Pros, 3 Cons

AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) stock continues to slide, despite a buoyant market. The shares are down 12.3% year-to-date and 28.5% over the past 12 months. That’s a dreadful performance in comparison to either the Nasdaq Composite index‘s 5.22% increase or the 11.8% gain by VanEck Vectors Pharmaceutical ETF (NASDAQ:PPH) from year-ago levels. ABBV stock makes up 5% of the pharma industry exchange-traded fund’s current portfolio.

Losses continued following AbbVie’s latest quarterly report. In it, we saw 2019 guidance fail to excite investors. Several drugs underperformed expectations. However, many investors see the continued weakness in AbbVie stock as an opportunity. The now-5.31% dividend yield in particular has generated much enthusiasm. In this market, that sort of yield is amazing. That is, assuming it comes from a safe source. Should you trust ABBV stock here?

AbbVie Stock Cons

Replacing Humira: Investors are asking where AbbVie goes after Humira? As of Q4 2018, Humira made up 61% of the company’s revenues. Yes, that is down from 65% for the same quarter in 2017, but the company’s transition to other products simply isn’t happening fast enough to inspire much confidence.

Humira generates about $20 billion in annual sales at the moment and 2018 was another record year for the franchise. However, cracks are showing. International sales — now getting hit by generics competition — fell by double digits in 2018. While that was more than offset by a continued rise in U.S. sales, the plaque psoriasis drug should lose American patent protection in 2023. At that point, AbbVie could lose the biggest share of its revenue if other pipeline drugs don’t come along fast enough.

Political Pressures: The intro of the Trump Administration’s proposed 2020 budget has drug prices back in the news. The budget takes aim at drug pricing with a variety of measures. Perhaps most relevant to AbbVie, the budget would sharply cut reimbursements for prescription drugs once a generic hits the market. Given the reliance here on Humira, that’s a major concern.

Meanwhile, the presidential election cycle is kicking off again. Remember that pharma and biotech stocks got clobbered ahead of the 2016 election as investors considered negative comments from both leading candidates. The Trump administration is going after drug prices, and several of the Democratic candidates seem inclined to do the same. Expect more negative political headlines in coming months.

Dividend Cut Coming? Most analyses of AbbVie’s dividend safety seem focused almost exclusively on 2019. Yes, the drug maker can afford the ABBV stock 5.5% dividend yield for the time being. In fact, there is plenty of room to spare, based on its relatively low dividend payout ratio.

However, so much of the shareholder base here is like that of Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) in 2015. That is to say, investors were attracted to past rising profits and oblivious to future threats. Just as Gilead’s profits plummeted once HCV revenue started dropping, AbbVie will face a far more-complicated situation in a few years. People buying AbbVie for its past dividend history are driving while looking out the rearview mirror.

AbbVie Stock Pros

That Dividend Yield: Just as any bearish argument involving ABBV stock starts with Humira’s patent problems, bulls invariably point to the dividend yield. And with good reason. At this point, ABBV stock is offering investors a choice yield of 5.31%. You’ll find only a handful of other $100-billion market cap companies that pay as much.

On top of that, AbbVie continues to increase its dividend. In the past year, it upped its quarterly payout from 96 cents to $1.07. Sure, there is good reason to doubt that the dividend hikes will continue once Humira goes off patent. But for income investors that are willing to play the timing game, there should be a few good years of income potential here as Humira enjoys its waning years of windfall sales numbers.

New And Rising Drugs: AbbVie has a lot of newly launching or still-growing drugs moving to replace Humira. Analysts have suggested that AbbVie could hit $7 billion peak sales with Imbruvica, and reach the $1-2 billion range for each of three others, Venclexta, Orlissa, and Mayvret. Meanwhile, while Risankizumab and Upadacitinib are still a distance from commercial success, both are potentially $5 billion drugs if all goes according to plan.

Add it all up, and you could match Humira’s current $20 billion annual sales contribution with this assortment of newer drugs. It would take a lot to go right — and in pharma, things usually don’t all follow plan — but there is a path here. It’s also worth remembering that Humira sales won’t go straight to zero even as the generics arrive; there will be several more years of reasonably strong cash flows first.

AbbVie still has a respectable pipeline and some time to keep developing other options even as Humira’s U.S. patent cliff steadily approaches.

Discounted Stock: Despite a hot stock market, ABBV shares have been caught in a downdraft. With the stock market up 15% for the year, AbbVie’s 13% decline stands in a rather stark contrast.

Given the decline, the stock is now trading at under 9x forward earnings. I don’t think P/E multiples are a great metric for pharma companies due to patent issues. But plenty of other investors do. The combination of a low P/E ratio and a stock that has fallen sharply will likely attract numerous dip buyers to help give ABBV stock a bounce.

AbbVie Stock Verdict

The clock is ticking. In 2023, Humira’s U.S. sales are likely to start to plunge as generic competition arrives. As we’ve seen internationally, Humira sales started to tank as soon as that happen elsewhere. Will the company’s newly launched drugs and pipeline do enough to replace Humira?

My guess that it won’t be. Humira did $19.9 billion in sales last year. A typical blockbuster drug will hit a few billion a year in sales. AbbVie needs multiple new blockbusters simply to maintain its current revenue stream, let alone grow additionally. It’s not impossible, but the odds are long. Unfortunately, $30 billion-plus in debt limits AbbVie’s options and makes a dividend cut in coming years quite likely. That will be terrible news for ABBV stock, given its huge dividend income investor base.

At the time of this writing, Ian Bezek owned GILD stock. You can reach him on Twitter at @irbezek.

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