COVID-19 vaccine prospects may be top of mind for investors looking at French pharma giant Sanofi-Aventis (Sanofi Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts NASDAQ:SNY) but portfolio manager Lorne Steinberg thinks the company’s fundamentals are strong, regardless of how its COVID trials pan out.
“We own Sanofi and we don’t own it because of COVID,” said Steinberg, president of Lorne Steinberg Wealth Management, speaking on BNN Bloomberg on Tuesday.
“If their COVID vaccine is successful in time, that would be a huge bonus but the reality is this is such a well-run pharmaceutical company. It’s not facing any large, imminent patent expiry, it’s trading at a very reasonable valuation, with good earnings and dividend growth. And when we look at Sanofi we anticipate a double-digit return over the next five years, without COVID,” Steinberg said.
News broke earlier this month that a COVID-19 vaccine in development by drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline in conjunction with Sanofi would be delayed due to concerns over its efficacy in people over the age of 60. The companies said while interim results from a Phase I/II study found an immune response comparable to patients who had recovered from COVID-19 in adults aged 18 to 49 years, a low immune response was found in older adults, which was attributed to “an insufficient concentration of the antigen” in the trial.
“We have identified the path forward and remain confident and committed to bringing a safe and efficacious COVID-19 vaccine. Following these results and the latest encouraging new preclinical data, we will now work to further optimize our candidate to achieve this goal,” said Thomas Triomphe, Executive Vice President and Head of Sanofi Pasteur, in a press release. “No single pharma company can make it alone; the world needs more than one vaccine to fight the pandemic.”
Sanofi’s share price dropped on the news and is currently down five per cent for the year. That’s in contrast to the S&P 500 Healthcare Sector SPDR ETF (NYSE:XLV), which tracks the broader sector and is currently up nine per cent.
Sanofi, the world’s largest vaccine producer, saw its vaccine sales rise by 13.6 per cent year-over-year in its latest quarter, the company’s Q3 2020 delivered in late October. Overall, sales were up 5.7 per cent to €9,479 million and Specialty Care sales rose 23.8 per cent with strong performance from allergy drug Dupixent. Third quarter net income was up 1.0 per cent on a reported basis to €2,299 million and EPS was up 0.5 per cent to €1.83 per share.
For the year, Sanofi management guided with the Q3 report for business EPS to grow by between seven and eight per cent, while the company noted adding seven new Phase III programs from oncology and immunology.
“We achieved a strong quarter supported by solid sales from both Dupixent and Vaccines which allows us to upgrade our full year guidance. We remain focused on executing on our strategic priorities that will deliver promising medicines to address significant patient needs,” said CEO Paul Hudson in a press release.
“To this end, we strengthened our R&D pipeline with the successful completion of the Principia acquisition, adding multiple BTK inhibitors to address a variety of serious illnesses. Our COVID-19 vaccines development efforts continue on a fast track along with ensuring global access with pre-orders signed with major countries, regions, and non-profit organizations who will work to distribute the vaccine to those who most need it,” Hudson wrote.
Steinberg said investors will be getting good value in buying Sanofi right now.
“At this point in time, unfortunately I have no inside information so I don’t know where their vaccine stands at the present time, but regardless of the COVID vaccine, it’s not why we bought the stock,” Steinberg said. “This is just one of those really great businesses trading at a valuation way below the market with probably better dividend growth, a better dividend and decent earnings growth.”
Others would seem to agree. Speaking recently on Sanofi, BK Asset Management managing director Boris Schlossberg said the company’s solid fundamentals and the brightening picture for vaccine companies are marks in favour of Sanofi.
Sanofi “enjoys a very, very broad portfolio and it’s also a leader in vaccine manufacturing, not necessarily COVID but just vaccine manufacturers, and I think the whole move towards vaccination due to Covid awareness has really grown quite a lot and Sanofi is going to benefit from that the next couple of years,” said Schlossberg on CNBC’s Trading Nation on December 15.
“It’s also just a very, very steady stock. It’s got a 3.8-per-cent dividend, which makes it very attractive in this environment, and it does have one very good drug which is called Dupixent which basically allows for treatment of eczema in young children but it’s also indicated as a treatment for asthma. And I think that could be a very big drug,” said Schlossberg.
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