NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Pharmaceutical stocks have been in a steady descent over the last week since a privately-held drugmaker set off a firestorm of controversy with a dramatic price increase for a drug it bought for a relatively low cost. Against that backdrop, analysts are seeking safer names, as illustrated by two upgrades of big pharma companies this morning.
BACKGROUND: Pharmaceutical stocks, and particularly the shares of biotech companies, have declined significantly over the last week since privately-held Turing Pharmaceuticals increased the price from $13.50 to $750 per pill on its Daraprim drug for toxoplasmosis. Following Turing's Daraprim price hike, Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton criticized the "outrageous" prices of specialty drugs and laid out a plan to combat the problem. In the latest chapter of the reignited drug price debate, eighteen Democratic congressional representatives have requested that the House Oversight Committee subpoena Valeant (VRX) for information related to allegedly "massive" price increases for two cardiac drugs recently acquired by the company, claiming that Valeant is using "precisely the same business model" as Turing's Martin Shkreli.
BRISTOL-MYERS: This morning, UBS analyst Marc Goodman upgraded Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) - Get Report to Buy, saying Opdivo positions the company as a clear leader in the immuno-oncology space. Goodman raised his 2020 sales estimate for the drug to $10B from $8B citing the "very strong" renal cancer data, a larger lung market and additional smaller new indications. The recent pullback in the Pharma sector is overdone, Goodman tells investors in a research note on Bristol titled "We Like This Opportunity Right Here Right Now." He raised his price target for shares to $75 from $65.
J&J: Deutsche Bank analyst Kristen Stewart upgraded Johnson & Johnson to Buy calling the company a "diversified safe haven" amid volatile times for the sector. Stewart left a recent meeting with management "feeling more confident" that the company will see growth across all divisions, including pharma, despite patent expirations. J&J is "flush with cash," giving management opportunities to enhance growth through deals, she tells investors in a research note. Stewart keeps a $110 price target for J&J shares.
PRICE ACTION: In early trading, Johnson & Johnson rose 0.5% to $91.88. Amid the sector selloff in the last week, the stock has held up relatively well, falling 2.5% since September 21. Meanwhile, Bristol shares slipped 0.1% to $57.44 in early trading and has declined nearly 11% since September 21.