Pharma Stocks Drop On Biden Administration Support For Waiving Patent Protections For COVID-19 Vaccines

Plus, Moderna said its booster shot is effective at protecting against COVID-19 variants in early trial data, Papa John’s smashed earnings expectations, and jobless claims dropped to a pandemic era low.

Stocks were mixed at the open on Thursday with the Dow adding 14 points, or less than 0.1%. The S&P 500 traded just above the flatline, while the Nasdaq dropped 0.2%.

Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna are all trading lower this morning after the Biden administration announced yesterday that it supports waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, as countries struggle to manufacture the life-saving shots. “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement. “As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the Administration will continue to ramp up its efforts—working with the private sector and all possible partners—to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution. It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines.”

Speaking of Moderna, the stock has dropped the most in two months this morning on the patent waiving news even as the company reported its first ever profitable quarter. “In the first quarter, the Moderna team delivered on its supply commitments to many governments and helped protect more than 100 million people,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a press release. “This accomplishment translated into our first profitable quarter in the company’s history, after 10 years of scientific innovation and several billion dollars invested to make our mRNA platform a reality.” The company also said late Wednesday that a booster shot of its COVID-19 vaccine generated a promising immune response against the South African and Brazilian variants of the virus in an early clinical trial. “New variants of concern continue to emerge around the world. And we believe that over the next six months, as the Southern Hemisphere enters the fall and winter, we could see more variants of concern emerge,” Bancel said on an earnings call. “We believe booster shots will be needed as we believe the virus is not going away.”

In other earnings news, Papa John’s smashed expectations, posting adjusted earnings per share of $0.90 on revenue of $511.7 million, compared to estimates for earnings per share of $0.56 on revenue of $471 million. The pizza chain said its same-store sales rose 26.2% in the quarter, while international sales rose 23.2%. CEO Rob Lynch said the strength in the company’s business is thanks to strategies put in place in 2019 to focus on innovation, development, improving operations, and building an inclusive company culture. “We’ve accelerated those strategies throughout the pandemic,” Lynch said. “Q1 has been the culmination of all of those things, amplified by the launch of Epic Stuffed Crust. It has been a huge success for our system, bringing in a whole new wave of customers, exceeding our expectations and increasing our ticket average, because it’s a premium pizza.” And Etsy shares are down nearly 14% this morning even after delivering an earnings beat after the bell on Wednesday as the company warned that it expects the total sale of goods on its platform to slow in the second quarter as it faces tough comparisons to last year’s pandemic-boosted results. “We currently expect Q2 2021 GMS to decelerate along with the rest of e-commerce as we lap the tremendous 2020 growth rates,” Etsy CEO Josh Silverman said in a statement.

AB InBev shares are up nearly 6% after the company announced that CEO Carlos Brito will step down, effective July 1, and will be replaced by Michel Doukeris, head of the company’s North American business. Barclays analyst Laurence Whyatt said in a note to clients, “The CEO announcement will allow investors to reformulate views on a company which appears to be at the start of a positive transition.” Jefferies analyst Edward Mundy added that Doukeris’ elevation to the CEO rose brings a “strong premium focus” to AB InBev, given his experience implementing the company’s high-end division in China and background in e-commerce.

And jobless claims dropped below 500,000 for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic crisis. The Labor Department reported initial claims of 498,000 for the week ended May 1, while economists had expected a reading of 527,000. The decline in jobless claims comes just a day before the Labor Department is set to release its nonfarm payroll tally for April, where economists believe the economy will have added 1 million jobs in the month. “While forecasts put a return to pre-pandemic employment two years off, job gains are cutting financial stress and poverty by leaps and bounds now, and this strong trend should continue at least through the summer,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist with Navy Federal Credit Union.

Stocks We’re Watching

Rocky Brands Inc (NASDAQ: RCKY): Rocky Brands shares jumped nearly 23% yesterday after the company reported first quarter earnings. “It has been an excellent start to the year for Rocky Brands as we delivered a strong first quarter performance and completed a highly transformative acquisition,” President and CEO Jason Brooks said in the earnings release. “We experienced robust demand for our Rocky, Georgia and Durango brands across our wholesale and direct to consumer channels, which when combined with an easier comparison due to the impact on our business from COVID-19 in the year ago period, resulted in a dramatic improvement in revenue and earnings per share. The multi-year initiatives we’ve been executing in product innovation, fulfillment, consumer engagement and inventory management enhanced our ability to capture market share during the pandemic while creating a strong foundation to support long-term growth. The recent addition of The Original Muck Boot Company, XTRATUF, Servus, NEOS, and Ranger brands has further bolstered our powerful portfolio and provided our business model with compelling new opportunities to drive profitable, top-line expansion and increased shareholder value for years to come.”