News that Shire (LSE: SHP), known for its high-tech approach to rare diseases, is to buy US biotechnology company NPS Pharmaceuticals for $5.2bn (approximately 3.4bn) resulted in a 22p fall to 4,719p in early trading, but knowledge that the deal was afoot had been common since mid-December.
With plenty of the folding stuff on its books, Shire is able to snap up NPS for cash, paying $46 per share for the gastrointestinal disorder specialist, with the takeover coming just a couple of months since a a bid for Shire from US firm AbbVie failed AbbVie had been looking for a way to reduce its taxes.
With a market capitalization of 28bn, Shire is still a little way behind AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN) (NYSE: AZN.US) at 58bn and GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK) (NYSE: GSK.US) at 69bn, but with its share price up 63% over the past 12 months its getting there.
Over five years, the Shire share price is up 288% compared to only 53% for AstraZeneca and an almost negligible 13% at GlaxoSmithKline. Shire isnt really paying proper dividends yet, with yields of less than 0.5% expected, but that rate of growth for a FTSE 100 company is really quite remarkable.
GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca have been struggling with loss of patent protection on key drugs in recent years, and one way to compensate for that is by acquisition of smaller companies with promising new drugs and technologies. But neither of the two big pharmaceuticals has been especially successful there either.
Glaxos earnings per share (EPS) has been stagnating for a couple of years and theres an 18% fall expected for December 2014 and theres no growth expected before a 6% rise in 2016.
At Astra weve seen two years of falling EPS and there are three more expected, although the companys turnaround strategy looks set to bring a return to growth sooner than originally anticipated.
But turning to Shire, we see a near doubling of EPS over the past four years culminating in a 77% rise in 2013, and we have three more years of double-digit growth on the cards.
Shire shares are on forward P/E multiples of 19 and 17 for 2015 and 2016 respectively, which is about the same level as Astra and not too far ahead of Glaxos 15 or thereabouts.
Competition hotting up
While the big two are set to lead the sector into the future, with Shires rapid growth in recent years and great-looking prospects for the smaller Hikma Pharmaceuticals, the pharmaceuticals business could get a whole lot more exciting in the coming years.
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