Editors' pick: Originally published Jan. 31.
Pfizer (PFE) CEO Ian Read wasn't at the White House with fellow Big Pharma executives chatting with the Trump administration about pricing concerns on Tuesday.
Instead, the CEO and his management team sat through a roughly hour-and-a-half conference call with investors. He suggested that the door is wide open when it comes to M&A, while also defending the pricing strategy of both Pfizer and the entire industry. Not surprisingly, analysts also hounded Read with questions about industry dynamics under President Donald Trump, who on Tuesday met with CEOs of Merck (MRK) , Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) , Eli Lilly (LLY) and others.
Read, who said he couldn't attend the Jan. 31 meeting on Capitol Hill because of the company's fourth-quarter earnings call, said he doesn't see a dramatic pause in exploring large-scale business development opportunities with potential corporate tax reform on the horizon.
As Read has said publicly in the past, and reiterated on Tuesday, "We will play the cards we've been dealt."
From a leverage standpoint, management said there's no specific cap as to how high Pfizer would allow its total ratio of debt to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization -- which currently lies close to 1.3 times -- to increase for a potential transaction. The company will lever up to the extent it deems necessary, management said.
Pfizer last year picked up Medivation, the cancer drug developer it bought for $14 billion following a hotly contested sales process, and Anacor Pharmaceuticals, the atopic dermatitis drug developer it bought for $5.2 billion. Those deals filled some holes for Pfizer, but at least some company followers continue to believe Pfizer needs to execute a large-scale, transformative transaction to fuel top-line growth.
President Trump, meeting with CEOs of the biotech and pharma industries Tuesday, promised to "streamline the FDA" and cut regulations so that new products can be brought to the market faster and cheaper. The president's message today was much easier on the industry than critical remarks he made about the industry's pricing practices on the campaign trail.
Read, when questioned about Trump's campaign pledge to police the pharma industry and bring down prices, said Pfizer has no intention of changing its philosophy in how it prices medications. Meanwhile, the magnitude of price increases seen at Pfizer at the start of the year -- just below 10% across its portfolio over the last 12 months -- are largely greater than its U.S. counterparts.
Pfizer, along with its peers, is largely expected to raise prices again at mid-year.
The CEO condemned the negative media coverage of generic drug pricing: "The misinformation about drug pricing is far greater than I've ever seen out of the marketplace," Read said.
Read also said that he is in agreement with Trump that foreign countries must face the same scrutiny faced by U.S. drugmakers. The president's mission to bring manufacturing back to America could also be a positive part of the story in the event of tax reform, while regulation to speed up the approval of generics could also help even up the playing field, Read said.
In the event of legislation permitting the repatriation of foreign profits, Pfizer would be among the largest beneficiaries.
Pfizer could potentially boost its U.S. cash to up to $60 billion to $70 billion, from $10 billion, through the repatriation of about $14 billion in cash overseas and by raising additional debt of about $40 billion, according to Evercore analyst Mark Schoenebaum.
Meanwhile, the company's mixed quarterly results -- missing on earnings while meeting the consensus estimate on revenue -- got little attention on Tuesday.
Pfizer posted 47 cents per share during its fourth quarter on $13.63 billion of revenue. The company issued full-year 2017 earnings guidance of $2.50 to $2.60 per share, and revenue guidance of $52 billion to $54 billion.