Back in 2012, AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN) (NYSE: AZN.US) was priced for disaster. Investors expected the firms profits to fall off the patent cliff, and the firms shares were trading on a trailing P/E of around 6 times earnings, with a yield of more than 6%.
Smart investors like Neil Woodford were loading up with AstraZeneca shares, which have since gained nearly 60%, despite the firms pre-tax profits falling by more than 70%.
Today, its a different picture: much of AstraZenecas likely future recovery has now been priced into the stock, and the Anglo-Swedish firms shares trade on a more demanding rating of 16.1 times 2015 forecast earnings.
In my view, GlaxoSmithKline is now a more attractive buy, despite the firms superficially similar valuations.
1. Glaxo may be cheaper
Glaxo shares currently trade on a 2015 forecast P/E of around 16, as do those of AstraZeneca.
However, using other metrics, Glaxo looks cheaper: AstraZeneca operating margin of 8% is half the 15% operating margin achieved by Glaxo last year.
Its also worth noting that Glaxos current share price includes approximately 163p of cash returns planned for 2015 equivalent to a chunky 10.5% yield. This is made up of the firms ordinary dividend (5.2% prospective yield) plus a planned 82p per share cash return, following the completion of Glaxos big deal with Novartis later this year.
2. Growth catalyst
Indeed, I believe that last years deal with Novartis will go a long way towards addressing the concerns investors have raised about Glaxos recent performance.
The concept behind the Novartis deal is to allow both firms to strengthen their positions in key markets.
There are three strands to the deal: Novartis will buy some of Glaxos new cancer medicines, Glaxo will buy Novartis portfolio of vaccines, and both companies will combine to form a new consumer healthcare business that will control many of the worlds best-known brands.
3. One step ahead
I believe the Novartis deal will give Glaxo a head-start over AstraZeneca in terms of new growth.
Ive little doubt that AstraZeneca will eventually manage to develop its own solution to the growth problem, but my feeling is that Glaxo will get there first and that after a difficult year in 2014, this potential is not currently reflected in GlaxoSmithKlines share price.
Not just me
I’m not the only Fool who is bullish on GlaxoSmithKline, either: the firm’s shares were recently selected as one of the Fool’s “5 Shares To Retire On“, thanks to their exceptional long-term growth potential.
If you already own shares in GlaxoSmithKline, you might be interested in reading about the other four stocks selected by the Fool’s top analysts.
I can’t reveal the identity of these companies here, but I do strongly recommend that you take a look at this FREE, no-obligation report while it is still available.
To receive your personal copy today, click here now.
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