Can AbbVie Continue Its Bull Run?

Can AbbVie Continue Its Bull Run?

Pharmaceutical company AbbVie has delivered impressive returns to shareholders since being spun off from former parent Abbott Labs. Since being listed in January 2013 its stock has gained 57%, which is comfortably ahead of the S&P 500's returns of 32%. After such a strong period of performance, is AbbVie still good value at current price levels?

Encouraging news
AbbVie's recent news has been positive. For example, it reported last week that its hepatitis C combination treatment attained a sustained virologic response of almost 100% of patients in a phase 3 trial. It is one of six late-stage studies that AbbVie is conducting to form part of an FDA application for the drug, with the company set to submit the product for approval within the first half of 2014. The FDA decision could have a significant impact on AbbVie's share price as a result of sales projections for the drug not being included in its most recent quarterly update.

Good value
Even given the strong performance since being listed, AbbVie stock appears to offer good value on a relative basis. The company currently trades on an EV/EBITDA ratio (enterprise value dividend by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization) of 12.1.This compares favorably to sector peer Bristol-Myers Squibb , which trades on an EV/EBITDA ratio of 22.8.

However, that doesn't mean Bristol-Myers Squibb isn't also attractive at current price levels. Its share price could be positively affected by developments in its much-hyped lung cancer drug nivolumab. Indeed, it announced last week that a phase 3 study on a combination of Yervoy and nivolumab will commence before the end of 2014.

There had been concern regarding the amount of time Bristol-Myers was apparently taking to proceed to a phase 3 trial for those drugs, after a phase 2 study had successfully met its endpoints. This pressure grew after a scientific research team from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Johns Hopkins University developed statistics regarding patients with melanoma who have taken nivolumab that were very positive. News on nivolumab may act as a significant catalyst on the share price of Bristol-Myers Squibb over the medium term.

Another competitor
AbbVie's EV/EBITDA ratio also compares favorably to that of Amgen , which trades on a ratio of 14.3 (versus AbbVie's 12.1). However, as with Bristol-Myers Squibb, Amgen has a great deal of potential, too.

For instance, pharma giant Merck in January announced plans to partner with Amgen (alongside Incyte and Pfizer) in developing its PD-1 drug, MK-3475, in combination with other drugs in clinical trials. Amgen will test how MK-3475 works with talimogene laherparepvec, which is an engineered cold virus previously touted as a strong potential cancer therapy prospect. The outcome of the trials could have a significant impact on Amgen's share price. Not all news has been positive for Amgen. It reported last week that a phase 3 trial (in partnership with Bayer) for liver cancer drug Nexavar did not meet its primary endpoint of improving recurrence-free survival. Amgen has multiple projected milestones for its late-stage pipeline in 2014, meaning it could yet turn out to be a strong year for the company.

Looking ahead
Despite making significant gains since listing, I think that AbbVie stock offers good value for money at current pricing. This can be seen in its EV/EBITDA ratio, which is more attractive than Amgen and Bristol-Myers Squibb, although this does not mean that the latter two companies do not have bright futures. It does, however, show that on a relative basis AbbVie has significant potential; it could have a great 2014 to follow what was an impressive 2013.

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