PFE is up more than 70% over the last year. Could it still offer useful value?

As recently as last summer, a lot of signs about the global pandemic seemed to suggest that the worst of the worst was over, and we could all finally begin to put COVID-19 concerns and commentary in the rear view. As new, even more contagious variants of the virus have emerged, however, it has become more and more apparent that, while economic activity has been healthy over the past year and is expected to continue to be so, infections across the world have been spiking to new record levels and putting a big strain back on the healthcare system. That strongly suggests that COVID is going to continue to be a concern, and an ongoing issue well in this new year.

I think the risk these variants continue to present means that research into the long-term efficacy of current vaccines will be an ongoing concern, and it will continue to put a big emphasis on encouraging vaccinations and booster shots. The good news is that for the nRNA vaccines available in the U.S., updates to vaccines, if needed, are easier and less time-consuming than for other vaccine types.  For pharmaceutical companies like Pflizer Inc. (PFE), that means that their vaccines will remain relevant throughout this year and likely beyond. After accounting for an even split of those proceeds with its partner, PFE predicted their COVID mRNA vaccine – the first to be approved in the U.S. – would contribute $15 billion in sales for 2021 in their first quarter earnings report. The actual numbers came in even better; for PFE’s second fiscal quarter, COVID sales were 41% of total sales, amounting to a reported $7.8 billion in that period alone. Let’s also not forget that PFE has a robust pipeline of drugs in other important segments, including oncology that is expected to remain solid as growth in new, emerging drugs should offset declines in known names like Lyrica and Enbrel.

As one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in the industry, PFE boasts a broad portfolio with eight separate drug brands that each account for more than $1 billion in annual sales, but none that contribute more than 14% of total revenue (not counting its COVID vaccine). They also have a large development pipeline, especially as previously observed in oncology drugs where most analysts see strong long-term growth that should offset the effect of increased competition in existing brands as patent protections expire and biosimilar and generic drugs start to take up market share.

PFE’s stock price has enjoyed a strong upward trend throughout the past year, rising from around $30 in March 2021 to a mid-December peak at close to $62. The stock has faded a bit from that high, but in the last few days appears to have pivoted off of solid support and could be picking up a new head of bullish steam. That’s good news for technical and momentum-style traders, but even the long upward trend isn’t a bad thing from a value-based perspective. The company’s bottom line has seen significant, impressive improvements that translate to strength in free cash flow, liquidity, and operating margins. The silver lining of a pandemic that is now completing its second full year and moving into a third of continued global pressure is that demand for vaccines and boosters should continue to bolster the company’s growth. Does that mean that the stock could still offer useful value? Let’s find out.

Fundamental and Value Profile

Pfizer Inc. (Pfizer) is a research-based global biopharmaceutical company. The Company is engaged in the discovery, development and manufacture of healthcare products. Its global portfolio includes medicines and vaccines, as well as consumer healthcare products. The Company manages its commercial operations through two business segments: Pfizer Innovative Health (IH) and Pfizer Essential Health (EH). IH focuses on developing and commercializing medicines and vaccines, as well as products for consumer healthcare. IH therapeutic areas include internal medicine, vaccines, oncology, inflammation and immunology, rare diseases and consumer healthcare. EH includes legacy brands, branded generics, generic sterile injectable products, biosimilars and infusion systems. EH also includes a research and development (R&D) organization, as well as its contract manufacturing business. Its brands include Prevnar 13, Xeljanz, Eliquis, Lipitor, Celebrex, Pristiq and Viagra. PFE has a current market cap of $318 billion.

Earnings and Sales Growth: Over the last twelve months, earnings increased by more than 86%, while revenues grew by 98.6%. In the last quarter, earnings rose a little over 25% while sales were almost 30% higher. The company’s margin profile isn’t just healthy, but robust and gaining strength; over the last twelve months, Net Income as a percentage of Revenues was 28.69%, and strengthened to 33.81% in the last quarter.

Free Cash Flow: PFE’s free cash flow is very strong, at nearly $29.8 billion over the last twelve months. That also marks an improvement from $12.1 billion a year ago, and $21.1 billion in the quarter prior. The current number translates to a Free Cash Flow Yield of 9.52%.

Debt to Equity: PFE’s debt to equity is .48, which is a conservative number. The company’s balance sheet indicates operating profits should be more than adequate to service their debt, while the company’s liquidity has also seen big improvements to provide additional flexibility.  Cash and liquid assets were about $29.7 billion in the last quarter versus $13.6 billion six months ago, while long-term debt was $36.2 billion in the last quarter – down from $49.7 billion at the beginning of 2021. I don’t see the high debt number is a major red flag, given that the company has been directing a major portion of its focus to COVID-19 and to debt reduction. It is worth noting that the real profit opportunity in the vaccine wasn’t seen in the initial implementation and distribution. Profitability comes, as anticipated by management and many industry analysts, from the ongoing need for boosters, in similar fashion to the yearly flu or pneumonia booster that doctors generally recommend for just about everybody.

Dividend: PFE’s annual divided is $1.60 per share, and which translates to a yield of about 2.84% at the stock’s current price. It is also noteworthy that the dividend increased at the beginning of 2020 from $1.52 per share, and from $1.56 as of the last earnings report, and which I think provides a useful indication of management’s confidence in their approach.

Price/Book Ratio: there are a lot of ways to measure how much a stock should be worth; but I like to work with a combination of Price/Book and Price/Cash Flow analysis. Together, these measurements provide a long-term, fair value target at nearly $67 per share. That means that PFE is undervalued right now by about 19%.

Technical Profile

Here’s a look at the stock’s latest technical chart.

Current Price Action/Trends and Pivots: The chart above covers the last year of price activity. The red diagonal line traces the stock’s upward trend from a 52-week low at around $33 per share in March of this year to its peak in August at around $52. It also provides the baseline for the Fibonacci retracement lines shown on the right side of the chart. After hitting its 52-week high at $62 in December, the stock dropped back to start the new year at around $55, where it also found current support and started moving higher. The stock is picking up momentum and approaching immediate resistance at around $57.50 based on late December pivot activity. A push above $57.50 should give the stock enough momentum to test its 52-week high at around $62, while a drop below $55 should have downside to about $51 based on the last pivot low support the stock used in early December.

Near-term Keys: Even with the sizable improvements in PFE’s balance sheet and operating strength, it is a little surprising to say that the stock’s long-term upward trend hasn’t changed it’s long-term opportunity, and that a useful value proposition is still in place. If you prefer to focus on short-term trading strategies, you could use a push above $57.50 as a signal to consider buying the stock or working with call options, using a bullish near-term target price at around $62 to take profits. You could also use a drop below support at $55 as an opportunity to think about shorting the stock or buying put options, using $51 as a useful, quick-hit, bearish target.