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Large-Cap Pharmaceuticals Industry Near-Term Outlook Bright

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The Zacks Large Cap Pharmaceuticals industry comprises some of the largest global companies that developmulti-million dollar drugs for a broad range of therapeutic areas such as neuroscience, cardiovascular and metabolism, rare diseases immunology and oncology. Some of these companies also make vaccines, animal health, medical devices and consumer related healthcare products. All these players invest millions of dollars in their product pipelines and line extensions of their already marketed drugs. 

Here are the industry’s three major themes:

  • Demand-driven growth in sales of new products, successful innovation and product line extensions in important therapeutic areas, strong clinical study results, and frequent FDA approvals, continued strong performance of key products, growing demand for drugs, especially for rare-to-treat diseases, an aging population and increased health care spending are some of the factors boosting this industry’s growth. A faster drug approval process and the proposed removal of outdated regulations, which are escalating costs and slowing down innovation, are the other positives.
  • Mergers and acquisitions activity has increased significantly, especially after the tax overhaul in 2017, which reduced tax rate. The cash-rich big players are on the lookout for companies with innovative pipelines/technology. Meanwhile, in-licensing deals continue to be popular with several big companies collaborating with smaller and mid-sized players that have promising mid-to-late stage pipeline candidates or interesting technology. These deals make sense for both larger and smaller companies. While the big shots are able to improve their pipelines with prospective candidates, the smaller entities gain access to a non-dilutive source of funds that allows consistent investment in the pipelines.
  • Headwinds for the industry include government scrutiny of high drug prices, pricing and competitive pressure, generic competition for blockbuster treatments, slowdown in sales of some of the most high-profile older drugs and most importantly major pipeline setbacks.

Overall, we believe that pipeline success, cost-cutting measures, share buybacks, product launches, ramped up M&A and collaboration activities and appropriate utilization of cash should keep the sector afloat, going forward.

Zacks Industry Rank Indicates Solid Prospects

The group’s Zacks Industry Rank is basically the average of the Zacks Rank of all the member stocks.

The Zacks Large Cap Pharmaceuticals industry currently carries a Zacks Industry Rank #48, which places it in the top 19% of more than 250 Zacks industries. Our research shows that the top 50% of the Zacks-ranked industries outperforms the bottom 50% by a factor of more than 2 to 1.

Before we present a few large drug stocks that are well positioned to outperform the market based on a strong earnings outlook, let’s take a look at the industry’s stock-market performance and its current valuation.

Industry Underperforms Sector & S&P 500

The Zacks Large Cap Pharmaceuticals industryis a 14-stock group within the broader Medical sector. It has underperformed the S&P 500 and the Zacks Medical Sector on a year-to-date basis.

While the stocks in this industry have collectively declined 1.3% year to date, the Zacks S&P 500 composite and the Zacks Medical Sector have increased 2.7% and 17.4%, respectively.

Year-to-Date Price Performance





Industry’s Current Valuation

On the basis of the forward 12-month price-to-earnings (P/E), a commonly used multiple for valuing large pharma companies, the industry is currently trading at 14.35X compared with the S&P 500’s 17.21X and the Zacks Medical sector's 20.00X.

Over the last five years, the industry has traded as high as 18.10X, as low as 13.94X and at a median of 15.76X as the chart below shows.


Forward 12 Month Price-to-Earnings (P/E) Ratio




Bottom Line

In order to succeed in a changing global market and evolv­ing healthcare landscape, pharma­ceutical companies need to adopt innovative business models, invest in new technologies, raise investments in personalized medicines and seek external partners and collabora­tors for complementary strengths.

The sector may face some volatility due to the drug pricing issue, pricing/re-imbursement pressure, stiff competition, sluggish legacy product sales, loss of patent exclusivity of some key drugs and pipeline related setbacks. However, pipeline success in innovative and important therapeutic areas, cost control, share repurchases, product introductions, heightened M&A activity and appropriate utilization of cash should put the sector on a firm footing as the year progresses.

In the Large Cap Pharmaceuticals universe, five companies have a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). Most of these have witnessed positive earnings estimate revisions in the past 30 days.

You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

Roche Holding AG (RHHBY - Free Report) : Shares of this Swiss drugmaker have gained 9.2% this year so far. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for current-year EPS has been revised 2.9% upward over the past 30 days. Roche carries a Zacks Rank #2.

Price and Consensus: RHHBY

Merck & Co., Inc. (MRK - Free Report) : The Zacks Consensus Estimate for this Kenilworth, NJ -based drugmaker’s current-year EPS has remained stable over the past 30 days. Merck has a Zacks Rank of 2. The stock has risen 7.4% so far this year.

Price and Consensus: MRK

Sanofi (SNY - Free Report) : The stock of this French drugmaker has moved 1.8% downward year to date. However, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for this Zacks #2 Ranked company’s current fiscal EPS has been raised 0.3% over the past 30 days.

Price and Consensus: SNY

Bayer Aktiengesellschaft (BAYRY - Free Report) : This Leverkusen, Germany-based drug giant has seen a 2.1% decline in share price so far this year. However, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for this #2 Ranked stock's current-year EPS has increased 5.8% over the past 30 days.

Price and Consensus: BAYRY

AbbVie, Inc. (ABBV - Free Report) : This North Chicago, IL based drugmaker, which recently offered to buy Allergan plc, has seen a 26.5% decline in share price so far this year. However, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for this #2 Ranked stock's current-year EPS has increased 0.1% over the past 30 days.

Price and Consensus: ABBV



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