Why Valeant may have been treading water for months
As a bear on Seeking Alpha about Valeant (VRX) since October 2015, when the stock was around $100, I modified my views some months ago subsequent to the stock falling below $10, after which several positives emerged. These positives included:
- Removal of the Ackman overhang,
- pending or actual launch of Siliq,
- expectations that Vyzulta would finally launch, and
- rescheduling of the debt.
The modified trading views were to expect VRX to trade in a range rather than collapse immediately. After all, a 95% bear market since the Q3 2015 highs is plenty. Furthermore, the psychology of speculators gets very interesting when a stock with about a $5 B market cap has $25 B of net debt. In this situation, the enterprise value may be viewed as the $5 B value of shares outstanding X price, plus $25 B or $30 B. This is the amount the company needs to earn to pay back the debt and earn the value of the stated market cap. Thus, if the company can earn not just $30 B but $35 B, subtracting the same $25 B debt means that the equity is suddenly worth $10 B. This implies that the stock price doubles. From there, one can imagine an “up, up and away” move as Bausch & Lomb strengthens and new products succeed, one after the other. Meanwhile, interest costs decline as debt gets paid down, etc. So then one can think of a triple to, say, $40. All this upside, and the worst is that the stock can go to zero – but the usual speculator psychology is that one can limit one’s loss by selling at some predetermined point, such as $10.
Thus there is a pool of buying power that likes the reward:risk ratio. At the same time, there is a large pool of stockholders that is down on the stock and is perhaps grimly determined to wait for better times.
So the combination of the company offering hope from new products and receiving breathing space from its creditors led me to think of a range-bound stock price, but within a bearish big picture setting where I believed and said the major trend for the stock was probably still down, possibly to or near zero.
However, with VRX having rallied post-earnings to close the week at $15.38, this article explains why the earnings release, slide presentation, and conference call continue to support a bearish long term view
A personal note: I’ve never been long or short VRX, and am a long-only investor. I am not working with or in any other way aligned with a short seller, put buyer, etc.
As far as analysis of companies that have lots of debt and little cash, and which emphasize non-GAAP “earnings,” I look at them two ways to see if they correlate. If they point in the same direction, both bearish, then I can think about them bearishly and explain it both ways in an article. The two ways that cover the bases with VRX are GAAP EPS and balance sheet/cash flow analysis. It is the latter that allows me to join the bulls and ignore amortization charges, goodwill writedowns, etc. But because stock prices basically rise with earnings, I will begin first with earnings and ask if the core of VRX is, or is not, profitable, using generally accepted accounting principles that prevail in the United States of America.
Another complicated quarter for VRX, but at the core, VRX is unprofitable (and this may worsen)
As VRX’s CFO explained in his prepared remarks in the conference call, VRX showed a GAAP profit due to a very large tax benefit. There were also significant one-time events, which I will try to exclude. I will just try to get to a recurring core of the P&L. Thus I am excluding negatives that some other perma-bears on VRX mention, such as writedowns goodwill/intangibles/in-process R&D, and legal risk (I have never worried much about legal risk for VRX, though the legal fees are significant). I do this to try to accurately uncover the true story.
Now to my P&L analysis.
From the first table in the earnings release, we learn of $2.2 B in revenues for Q3. Here are the expenses I list as reasonably recurring, in millions of USD:
- 659 = cost of goods and revenues
- 623 = SG&A
- 81 = R&D
- 657 = amortization of intangibles
- 456 = net interest expense.
Total recurring expenses: $2.48 B.
Loss from continuing operations, excluding tax expenses or benefits, about $300 MM.
So, VRX is unprofitable even after excluding writedowns and the like, and excluding one-time tax benefits.
The next question is whether this will change in future years. Only time will tell, of course. I discuss this later and explain why I have a point of view that is negative for VRX’s chances.
Why amortization charges are included in measuring profitability (or, “a false construct”)
Some VRX bulls dispute amortization as a continuing cost when doing a profit and loss analysis. I disagree: it is a real cost when doing P&L analysis. In addition, unlike writedowns, amortization charges are recurring; they end on schedule, or when changing conditions change or eliminate the amortization charges. All the amortization does is measure money previously spent that never entered the P&L as the loss that it was. This accounting convention was done to benefit shareholders. Then it got misused by aggressive managements and their allies/enablers in the financial community. The reasoning in a little more detail:
A purchase costs money, with the operative word being “costs.” That cost has to either be put in the P&L line when the money is spent (cash basis) or spread out over time (amortized). This basic insight led me to correctly diagnose VRX going back to my first article, written when VRX was around $100:
One of the overlooked aspects of the stock is a conventional analysis of its operations based on generally accepted accounting principles…
The conclusion is that VRX was grossly overpriced simply based on GAAP EPS and a very weak balance sheet.
That article also correctly estimated that VRX was probably worth $10 per share or less (at least a 90% haircut) even if the allegations then hitting the news from short sellers such as Andrew Left were false.
This helps to show the value of paying attention to GAAP profits or losses. The media was propounding the idea that VRX was highly profitable (even the previously conservative Value Line joined in), but that was using fake non-GAAP “earnings.” These numbers omitted such key points as bringing the cost of the acquisitions into the ongoing P&L statements via amortization charges. There were other evasions in the non-GAAP numbers, but ignoring amortization was the largest. Because VRX’s tens of billions of dollars expended on acquisition was funded entirely, or almost entirely, with debt, the importance of thinking through underlying profitability was much more important than with a company that spent its own cash in the bank on a deal. In that case, GAAP continues to be the right way to measure whether the deal is working out, but the company’s solvency is not at stake as it is when the deals bring in mounds and mounds of debt.
As it happened, within mere months of my article, VRX was on the brink of having to default on its debt, which I think would probably have destroyed the share price, until lenders saved it. Undoubtedly saving it was to benefit the lenders, not shareholders, and this led to the lenders coming into control of the company’s goals. Debt repayment rather than growth and gambling suddenly took priority.
The theme of the importance of GAAP was just then coming into public consciousness. About a week after my article was published, the New York Times achieved much greater awareness of the same issue I was pointing to in a Sunday article by the well-known realist on financial affairs, Gretchen Morgenson. The title of her piece was clear: Valeant Shows the Perils of Fantasy Numbers. Two paragraphs from her article show the validity of our arguments:
Valeant is among a growing number of companies that regularly present two types of financial results: those that adhere to generally accepted accounting principles, and those that help executives put the best spin on their operations.
In accounting parlance, such adjusted figures — which exclude certain costs from calculations of a company’s earnings — are known as pro forma or non-GAAP numbers. But let’s call them what they really are: a false construct.
In case you still disagree, just look at all the pharma roll-ups that have emphasized non-GAAP numbers always trying to get investors to ignore those pesky amortization charges. These worthies include Teva (TEVA), Mallinckrodt (MNK), Endo (ENDP), etc. All of them are huge losers in one of America’s great bull markets. Even Allergan (AGN), a stronger contender, has done as well as it has done only because it made a huge capital gain by dumping its large rolled-up generic division (Actavis) to TEVA. But as I have pointed out in my AGN articles, I have always resolutely refused to turn fundamentally bullish on AGN even when the stock was down, because using GAAP, profitability remained absent despite the stronger assets and strong management.
Moving on, the next section discusses a cash flow method, not the P&L method, of looking at VRX. This is the proper way to ignore amortization charges.
This method allows us to think about whether VRX is ultimately solvent based on free cash flows: is it generating more than enough cash to meet its ongoing interest and, beginning in 2020, its debt repayment obligations? What are the trends for cash flow from operations going forward?
Cash flow is not good enough now, and it looks worse for next year
The trend in cash flows this year is poor, mostly but not exclusively reflecting ongoing problems in VRX’s dermatology division, the sale of FCF-positive assets, and ongoing losses of exclusivity. From the CFO’s prepared remarks (see Slide 16):
We generated $490 million of cash from operations in the quarter, and year to date we generated more than $1.7 billion.
This sentence calls for analysis. Cash flow from operations, or CFFO, for nine months was $1.71 B. Subtract $0.49 B for Q3’s contribution and you see that H1 had CFFO of $1.22 B, which is $0.61 B on average per quarter. Thus:
CFFO in Q3 saw a drop of about 20% from the H1 average.
How is that a justification for this debt-ridden company’s stock to have surged? Just because, just maybe, the bear market in generic pricing is winding down (no guarantees)? VRX has only a small generic division, which has low profitability. VRX is a combination of B&L and specialty branded pharma, with a small generic business as well.
Now let’s look at the debt set-up to see if likely forward CFFO run rates are adequate to meet the upcoming obligations. I think this shows that there is no reason for any fundamentally-based investor to go long this stock anywhere near the current price.
VRX’s debt maturity schedule requires huge cash flows
As shown on slide 16 of the presentation linked to above, VRX must repay about $20 B by 2023 to meet its debt obligations. Clearly, $2 B per year X 6 years is only $12 B, so it’s $8 B short by that quick calculation. (Perhaps $20 B shrank to $19 B or so after the quarter ended, due to debt repayments the company made, so maybe it would be $7 B short using this simple calculation).
This multi-billion-dollar shortfall is much more than VRX’s entire market cap, so good luck getting the money from the sale of equity.
But it looks worse than that to yours truly just looking forward to next year.
There are at least two ongoing problems with attaining that number, discussed next.
Ongoing losses of exclusivity (slides 31-32)
From Slide 32, we see that two ophtho drugs, Lotemax and Istalol, are anticipated both to go generic this quarter. Their estimated 2017 sales apparently will be around $111 MM. Critically, the pre-tax profit from these sales is $106 MM (Not all sales are equal. B&L has much lower gross margins than these old cash cows).
That point is important in assessing VRX. Old drugs getting near end of life lose marketing support and thus represent almost pure profit. Whereas, new drugs are expensive to introduce to the market and tend to be cash flow negative for some time.
Two other drugs, Mephyton and Syprine, likely both lose exclusivity in Q4. Finally, Isuprel has lost exclusivity in Q3, and unless that occurred early in July, the full impact of that was not seen in CFFO last quarter.
The 2016 Annual Report shows that Mephyton and Syprine together achieved $144 MM in sales. Isuprel did $188 MM in 2016 sales. Per slide 40, Mephyton and Syprine together had $32 MM in Q3 sales. I assume that translated to around $120 MM annualized in FCF for these two brands. Isuprel did $30 MM in Q3 2016, $30 MM in Q2 2017, and $23 MM in Q3 2017.
The five drugs discussed above may cost VRX $300 MM annualized as soon as next year, according to my calculations.
Thus CFFO at VRX has a serious structural problem: it looks ready to get worse.
Also, based on p. 148 of the annual report which shows the decline in annual amortization for several years hence, significant additional losses of exclusivity are likely in 2018 and beyond. As one example, Apriso, with sales annualizing around $160 MM, may go generic in April next year. Others, possibly a relatively major product called Uceris, are anticipated to go generic in the next several years. Again, many of these are not being promoted much, so that their pre-tax profit margins can easily exceed 90%. Thus if their sales drop to near-zero, the hit to profits is proportionally greater than the sales that remain, which generally have much lower all-in pre-tax margins.
All this creates continuing headwinds. In addition…
Recent divestitures hurt CFFO
Per slide 33, the sale of iNova at the end of Q3 did not materially affect cash flow, but beginning this quarter, its annualized $100 MM EBITDA will be gone. Then, this quarter, Obagi, with EBITDA around $20 MM will have flown out the door.
The divestiture of two divisions alone will cost around $120 MM in FCCO next year.
Putting things together, VRX looks to me to likely run about $400 MM less in CFFO annualized next year versus this. So, instead of CFFO annualizing at $2 B per year, I propose $1.6 B. Multiply that by the six years from 2018 to 2023, inclusive, and you get $9.6 B in cumulative CFFO.
This is inadequate compared to $19-20 B in debt maturities by 2023. I doubt that anything that VRX is launching, or anything arising from its shrunken pipeline, can make up the approximate $9 B gap.
In addition, remember the $5-6 B in long-term debt due after 2023. Even if Xifaxan retains patent protection for a long time, eventually it too will go generic.
So, the cash flow method of looking at VRX makes it mandatory for massive profits and free cash flows to be generated from new products, plus hoped-for growth of Xifaxan and other products such as Relistor, and from B&L. Everybody is, of course, free to be as optimistic as they want on the above. To keep this article from becoming a whale, I will focus on three new or expected products, where perhaps the Street does not have as clear a view of what they may achieve than for the known quantities of Xifaxan et al and B&L.
Brief analysis Of Siliq, Vyzulta and IDP-118
Sales were nominal in Q3. Competition is fierce in psoriasis. Even the leading oral entry, Otezla from Celgene (CELG) faced both pricing and volume pressure in Q3. Siliq is thus a “show me” story, because of its black box warning and because of newer, also highly effective antibodies that lack that black box warning. Also, the innovator, AstraZeneca (AZN), is VRX’s partner, splitting profits, if any, and also in line for another lump sum payout if sales reach a certain level. Right now and perhaps permanently, Siliq uses cash.
It is difficult for me to be optimistic about Siliq’s cash generation ability for VRX knowing that before Siliq is prescribed, patients must be advised that this drug may make them suddenly want to kill themselves. The black box warning may be removed at some point, but A) the clock is ticking and B) competition is tough and growing in the psoriasis space. So I am very cautious about Siliq.
This is an eyedrop for glaucoma. The active ingredient is related to the heavily genericized glaucoma drug Xalatan, the dominant force in the market. The leading brand of this type of glaucoma treated is Travatan Z, is an improved formulation of Travatan. The active ingredient is the same in both Travatan and Travatan Z, but the latter is easier on the eyes.
Travatan Z’s marketer is Alcon, the powerful eye care division of the giant Novartis (NVS).
Comparing the Vyzulta P.I. to the P.I. of Travatan Z, similar levels of therapeutic effect were demonstrated, even though the VRX drug, Vyzulta, may work by two mechanisms within the eye whereas Travatan Z may work by one mechanism. The P.I. of Travatan Z also mentions results of its effects as monotherapy as well as its use as add-on therapy to a beta-blocker eye drop. However, the following is the entirety of the clinical results listed for Vyzulta:
14 CLINICAL STUDIES
In clinical studies up to 12 months duration, patients with open-angle glaucoma or ocular hypertension with average baseline intraocular pressures (IOPs) of 26.7 mmHg, the IOP-lowering effect of VYZULTA™ (latanoprostene bunod ophthalmic solution) 0.024% once daily (in the evening) was up to 7 to 9 mmHg.
This FDA-approved language stands in contrast to all the studies listed in VRX’s press release announcing FDA approval of Vyzulta, which mention other clinical trials results. These may have been Phase 2 results that the FDA did not consider scientifically strong enough to allow mention of them in the label.
There is also competition in the branded space from Lumigan, an Allergan (AGN) product; AGN is also very strong in ophtho.
So, this again is a “show me” story. The incumbent brands will fight hard for every percentage point of market share (and fractions of points). They may be able to bundle products, and they will likely do what it takes on price as well to withstand Vyzulta. For VRX to make a lot of profit from this eyedrop is not going to be easy, in my humble opinion.
This pipeline candidate is a combination of two generic topical agents for psoriasis. An NDA was submitted in September. Assuming FDA approval, which I expect next year, there are obvious problems with the prospects for this. Psoriasis topicals comprise a crowded field with numerous generics. The two drugs in IDP-118 are each available generically. In the press release linked to above, VRX makes this statement on that topic:
Both [drugs] approved to treat plaque psoriasis, halobetasol propionate and tazarotene, when used separately, are limited to a four-week or less duration of use. Based on existing data from clinical studies, the combination of these ingredients in IDP-118 with a dual mechanism of action, potentially allows for expanded duration of use, with reduced adverse events.
The first point within this first problem is that four weeks of treatment are often enough.
A second problem is that once the combination is approved for a longer period, then it may be logical for the doctor to try each drug individually, and if treatment needs to go longer than four weeks, continue them individually.
The basic question on sales is why insurers will not create major financial incentives for each drug to be dispensed individually if a prescription for the combo is written.
In the linked press release, VRX references a Phase 2 study that it says shows that IDP-118 was superior to each drug given separately. Let us see if that sort of language is included in the P.I. I am skeptical at this point of this.
Finally, there are the twin questions of what intellectual property VRX will have to protect this combination, and the related question that if this idea is so good, and VRX has been talking about it for some time, how much similar competition from other combinations will also come to market?
Putting it together, I look at IDP-118 the way I look at Siliq and Vyzulta, namely a “show me” product with uncertain commercial prospects.
VRX does have some other projects, including several “IDP-” type dermatologics. It is implausible in my view that all of them collectively will move the needle given the massive scale of VRX’s net debt load. VRX spends about 4% of revenues on R&D, which is on the downswing. With no platform technology or discovery engine, structurally VRX is not much of a drug company in my eyes. Rather, it is primarily a bunch of old brands, in-licensed products such as Siliq, and B&L.
Since I have disclosed no confidential information in writing this article, the information I have analyzed can be known by all. So, whether for technical reasons or because I am missing something, VRX can rise, perhaps leaving its lows behind permanently.
If all the above new products do well, and if B&L can break out in Asia and elsewhere, then the leverage inherent in VRX shares may work for shareholders.
As usual, I write this article from the neutral standpoint of myself or other investor who has cash and is looking to invest it.
My view remains that VRX is de facto under the control of its creditors. I think it has been that way ever since it avoided a forced liquidation about 1 1/2 years ago. Looked at through this prism, the company’s behavior and comments in the conference call make sense. The lenders want the company to repay debt as the priority. In the meantime, cutting R&D and other costs and generating CFFO allow interest payments to be paid easily. Eventually, if some of the principal cannot be repaid, creditors are maximizing their recovery.
Joseph Papa, the new CEO, is not a magician. His history and that of the VRX team suggests there will not be the sort of magic that Steve Jobs accomplished when he rejoined a trouble Apple (AAPL) in 1997. It would appear doubtful that there would even be the turnaround of the sort that Howard Schultz led when he stepped back into the CEO role at Starbucks (SBUX) several years ago. Mr. Papa tried to relaunch Addyi, the “female Viagra,” but now the Sprout deal that brought Addyi to VRX with some fanfare has been acknowledged as a near-total failure.
If my fundamental analysis is mostly correct, then while I do not short stocks and provide no advice, I will comment that this may be a reasonable set-up for traders who do short stocks to think that VRX may be set for a more sustainable drop once again. Reasons that come to mind include:
- Rally to a difficult level (near recent highs of the prior rally),
- Siliq Rx data will be rolling in and may disappoint,
- rotation to pharma/biotechs that have dropped recently while VRX has surged, such as Merck (MRK) and Regeneron (REGN), and
- debt-heavy companies tend to falter when the Fed is tightening.
While it would be nice to see VRX succeed, producing wealth rather than disclosing all the wealth that prior management failed to crease, I continue to doubt that the stock ultimately has much if any value given the massive debt load.
Thanks for reading and sharing any comments you wish to contribute.
Disclosure: I am/we are long CELG, REGN, AAPL.
I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
Additional disclosure: Not investment advice. I am not an investment adviser.