Getting Glaxo Back to Good Health

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Shares of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have gone nowhere in six months. As disappointing as that may be for current shareholders, I believe it's been a victory for a company, which has been flooded in a wave of negative news involving (among others) a bribery scandal in China.

Although the details are still being sorted out, it was reported in July that Glaxo was alleged to have secretly funneled close to 3 billion yuan, or what amounts to almost $500 million in U.S. dollars to travel agencies so that they can distribute to Chinese doctors and officials. This news prompted an immediate probe by the Chinese police.

In fairness, although Glaxo has generated more than its share of bad publicity regarding this incident, it's worth noting here that it's not the only drug company that has been linked to these scandals. Not only have Swiss-based rivals Roche (RHHBY) and Novartis (NVS) been implicated in the scandal, but back in August, I raised concerns about Sanofi (SNY), which was (then) alleged to have paid over 500 Chinese doctors an estimated $274,000.

Sanofi's payments, meanwhile, were said to have been disguised as grants. But according to authorities, they were said to have been compensation for doctors to prescribe Sonofi-branded drugs to their patients. Now, I'm not making light of what is really a serious situation in the entire sector. Nor am I rushing to acquit any of these companies of their charges. But it's worth asking why hasn't these Chinese doctors been prosecuted. To say it another way, why are they so easily bought?

It's not exactly news that the Chinese healthcare system has always been perceived as "tainted" -- particularly due to low doctor salaries. Instead, corruption (in various forms) has supplemented shrinking budgets. It's always been normal operating procedure. In that regard, until there are clear healthcare reforms in China, it's tough for anyone to jump to any real conclusions without knowing truly where the blame begins. Nevertheless, Galxo's image needs to heal.

Given the dire circumstances in China, not a whole lot was expected this quarter in terms of revenue. But I was nonetheless surprised by the magnitude of the decline. Glaxo posted a 61% year-over-year decline in Chinese revenue. The good news, however, and equally surprising, was that despite the horrific Chinese numbers, Glaxo's worldwide sales of 6.51 billion pounds ($10.6 billion) were (only) flat year over year.

What's interesting here, though, is that third-quarter revenue in China were up for not only Roche and Novartis, but also Sanofi. Clearly, Glaxo has taken a bigger hit than its rivals. And at this point, I don't have any logical answer as to why that is, especially since China accounts for just over 3% Glaxo's worldwide sales last year.

Investors should nonetheless be encouraged that even with the flat revenue worldwide and the decline in China, management still delivered almost 30 pence in core earnings per share, which was up 10% year over year. Analysts, meanwhile, were forecasting core earnings of 27.2 pence when excluding certain items.

As disappointing as the numbers might have been, the news has done very little damage to the stock. And I believe the company's improving product pipeline has had a lot to do with the support. Even though Europe's austerity situation continues to weigh on revenue growth, management has spoken positively about new cancer drugs and treatments for HIV and lung disease, which have received regulatory approval.

To that end, while I'm not ready to say Glaxo is completely out of harm's way, there's nothing left in this story to suggest that these shares are any riskier now than before. Not to mention, management is calling for revenue growth for the year to be around 1% (local currency), with earnings climbing as high as 4%. With Glaxo shares trading at around $52, investors can expect the stock to reach $60 to $65 in the next 6 to 12 months.

At the time of publication, the author held no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Richard Saintvilus is a co-founder of StockSaints.com where he serves as CEO and editor-in-chief. After 20 years in the IT industry, including 5 years as a high school computer teacher, Saintvilus decided his second act would be as a stock analyst - bringing logic from an investor's point of view. His goal is to remove the complicated aspect of investing and present it to readers in a way that makes sense. His background in engineering has provided him with strong analytical skills. That, along with 15 years of trading and investing, has given him the tools needed to assess equities and appraise value. Richard is a Warren Buffett disciple who bases investment decisions on the quality of a company's management, growth aspects, return on equity, and price-to-earnings ratio. His work has been featured on CNBC, Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money, Forbes, Motley Fool and numerous other outlets.  

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