Covid-19 Simplifies Things for Moderna Investors

I recommended Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA) stock in late 2020 as part of a decade-long trend.  But MRNA stock has been taken over by events surrounding the company’s COVID-19 vaccine.

A bunch of glass vials of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.
Source: Shutterstock

Through the first three quarters of 2021, Moderna racked up $11.26 billion in sales. Analysts expect another $5.9 billion to come rolling in for Q4. And it’s all due to one product, Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine is funding a large pipeline covering cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disorders and even cystic fibrosis. But none of these drugs are yet through their clinical trials. The most promising technology in biotech has become a one-trick pony.

Moderna management has finally caught on to the need to play COVID-19 for all it’s worth. When the Omicron coronavirus variant emerged, CEO Stephane Bancel was quick to predict a “material drop” in the effectiveness of current vaccines.  New formulations, after all, will mean new sales.

The Omicron scare caused MRNA stock to spike as much as 38% from around $275 a week ago. Currently, Moderna shares are about 13% higher at around $310.

Modera Raking in Sales but Its Valuation is Off the Charts

Moderna’s market cap of $125.9 billion on what should be 2021 sales of $17.2 billion, yields an unheard-of price-to-sales ratio of 7.3. Even Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), Moderna’s primary competitor in the COVID-19 vaccine race, sells for a little over 4 times sales.

The premium is possible because the vaccine may be the most profitable drug launch ever. It’s possible because, assuming Moderna meets estimates for its fourth quarter, it will have $10.4 billion of net income for the year. Almost half its revenue is hitting the net income line, and that revenue is flooding in.

Small wonder Moderna wants to protect its cash cow, refusing to share patent rights with government scientists. The backlash against this stance is growing. One South African lab is defying patent law to design its own version of the Moderna vaccine, noting that only 6% of Africans are now vaccinated.

I bought Moderna shares after touting it here for two years. I watched as they skyrocketed in value to as high as $450. I then watched as they plunged by half, falling to $225 in early November. Speculators who grabbed shares then have a 38% gain in less than one month. Small wonder some are now asking if Moderna is “the next big meme stock.” 

But Moderna is not a meme stock. At least, it’s not supposed to be. Messenger RNA technology promises to revolutionize medicine. It tells cells how they can change their chemical makeup to fight disease. Technologies focused on encouraging or inhibiting the production of enzymes seem primitive by comparison.

The Bottom Line on MRNA Stock

Until recently, I believed Moderna was being outmaneuvered in the vaccine race. The drug business isn’t just about discovery and production. It’s also about marketing and image. A recent decision by Singapore to encourage a Moderna booster for those who previously got Pfizer shots burnishes Moderna’s image. That’s material to the stock’s value. But Moderna’s share price has become unmoored from its fundamentals.

Even the long-term promise of vaccines against cancer and heart disease pale in economic importance next to the short-term profits from the COVID-19 business. At this point, the worst thing that could happen for Moderna is that Omicron turns out not to be very deadly. That would be typical for vaccine evolution. As I wrote in a recent piece of fiction, a virus’ ultimate goal is to become the common cold, replicating in many hosts but not killing them.

As an investor, this tells me to sell MRNA stock, wait for the pandemic to fade, and then get back in at a lower price. That’s what I have done.

On the date of publication, Dana Blankenhorn held no positions in any securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the Publishing Guidelines.

Dana Blankenhorn has been a financial journalist since 1978. His latest book is Technology’s Big Bang: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow with Moore’s Law, essays on technology available at the Amazon Kindle store. Follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn.

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