After its deal to acquire Allergan (AGN) fell apart three months ago, Pfizer (PFE) executives indicated they may split the company into different parts. The idea, which Pfizer first floated five years ago, would presumably unlock, or bolster, shareholder value by creating two different entities to produce older drugs and another that would focus on newer medicines.
A decision is expected later this year, but one Wall Street analyst is questioning whether the big drug maker will follow through.
In a note to investors, Sanford Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson suggested there are several reasons for the uncertainty. For one, Anderson wrote that Pfizer Chief Executive Ian Read last month alluded to the possibility that splitting up the company could disrupt cash flow and weaken the strength of its balance sheet.
Of course, he pointed out this probably isn’t a new realization. In fact, he suggested this may explain why Pfizer turned its back on the idea and, instead, pursued two failed deals — with AstraZeneca (AZN) and then Allergan — in order to lower its corporate tax rate.
Why else may Pfizer reject a split? Using what he called a sum-of-the-parts analysis, Anderson suggested a split may not unlock “substantial additional” value for shareholders, after all. He forecasts a value of about $36 a share, which is roughly in line with the current stock price. And unlike in 2011, when growth prospects seemed fuzzy, Pfizer seems to be better positioned.
“This again begs the question, why bother to split?” he wrote.
After all, Pfizer can point to the success of the new Ibrance breast cancer treatment, which generated $723 million in sales last year, its first year on the market, and the Prevnar vaccine franchise, which notched $6.25 billion in revenue in 2015. There are also added sales from the Hospira acquisition, which once prompted further speculation about a split.
Interestingly, Anderson canvassed big investors, and 51 percent expect Pfizer to pursue a split. Meanwhile, 49 percent believe the drug maker would rely on more mergers and acquisitions and business development deals for growth if a split is rejected. Read acknowledged as much during a recent investor conference, he noted.
Ironically, this may bring Pfizer full circle, because this is, essentially, “an extension of the strategy the company pursued over the last 15-plus years,” Anderson wrote. And “this is potentially troubling, because it was this same strategy that caused Pifzer to consider splitting up in the first place.”
Just the same, Anderson suggested Pfizer executives may reject a split, since the stock is inexpensive relative to similar drug makers and offers total annual shareholder return of about 9 percent, when considering the dividend and earnings per share growth. And with healthy cash flows, he added, Pfizer can “continue to buy up its growth rate through acquisitions, something that investors in Pfizer generally seem okay with.”
We asked Pfizer for comment and will pass along any reply.