Interactive Investor

GSK extends share price rally after very healthy results

The turnaround at this UK pharmaceutical giant continues following these well-received quarterly results. City writer Graeme Evans explains why investors keep chasing the shares higher.

1st May 2024 13:15

by Graeme Evans from interactive investor

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Upgraded guidance and a bigger-than-expected quarterly dividend today moved GSK (LSE:GSK) shares closer to where they were prior to their summer 2022 Zantac-led crash.

The drugs giant plans to pay shareholders 15p a share on 11 July, which US bank Jefferies said compared with the City consensus of 14.7p and its own 14.5p estimate. Last year’s quarterly dividend was 14p.

The company continues to forecast a full-year payout of 60p a share, which is based on its policy of a 40-60% payout ratio through the investment cycle.

Shares rose 40p to 1,713p, taking gains for this year to 16%, after first-quarter revenues of £7.36 billion topped City hopes by 4% and led to a 16% beat on the earnings per share result of 43.1p.

The improvement was fuelled by strong sales of shingles vaccine Shingrix, which rose 18% to £945 million on the back of immunisation programmes in Australia and Europe, including the UK. It also benefited from earlier than anticipated supply to GSK’s partner in China.

Markets outside the US now represent more than 50% of global Shingrix sales, up from 40% the same quarter a year ago. The vaccine has been launched in 39 countries, the majority of which have average cumulative immunisation rates below 5%.

US sales decreased 7% against tougher comparatives, after the country’s immunisation rate at the end of 2023 reached 37% of the more than 120 million US adults currently recommended to receive Shingrix, up seven percentage points since the end of 2022.

Arexvy, a respiratory syncytial virus vaccine for older adults, recorded sales of £182 million following its launch in the US in the third quarter of last year. More than seven million of the country’s 83 million adults at risk have so far been protected by Arexvy.

In speciality medicines, strong performances in HIV, respiratory and immunology and oncology helped the division’s sales up by 17% to £2.5 billion. Total group sales rose 10% on a constant currency basis, with growth across the first half set to be stronger than the second due to tougher comparisons and the timing of Shingrix sales in China.

GSK’s forecasts for 2024 now point to turnover growth towards the upper part of the 5-7% range and core operating profit growth of 9% to 11% compared with 7-10% previously. Core earnings per share growth of 8% to 10% is up from 6-9% given at 2023 results.

The drugs pipeline now features 72 vaccines and specialty medicines, with 18 assets in the Phase III later stages of development.

Chief executive Emma Walmsley said: “We have made a strong start to 2024, with another quarter of excellent performance and continued pipeline progress, including positive data readouts for four phase III medicines.”

Taken together with other R&D achievements, she said GSK had strengthened its position in its key therapeutic areas of infectious diseases, HIV, respiratory/immunology and oncology.

She added: “We expect this strong momentum to continue, and look forward to delivering another year of meaningful growth in sales and earnings in 2024.”

Shares are now within 100p of where they were two years ago prior to the disclosure of US litigation on heartburn drug Zantac. They were just 1,316p in July last year.

Jefferies is backing shares to reach 1,950p. It said today: “We are well above consensus 2026 estimates and believe long-acting HIV injectables, vaccines, and new pipeline launches mean profits likely face a blip not cliff on 2028 HIV patent expiries.

“We argue given this under-appreciated growth profile, the shares offer attractive risk-reward ahead of potential Zantac class action settlement.”

The Zantac issue has overshadowed the company’s attempts to convince the City of its standalone potential since splitting off consumer healthcare operation Haleon (LSE:HLN) in 2022.

It continues to defend itself against the claims but doing so has taken time, with cases scheduled in Illinois, Texas and Nevada between now and March 2025.

GSK reached a confidential settlement on a trial due to begin last month in California, a move it said reflected the company’s desire to avoid the distraction related to protracted litigation. It did not admit any liability in the settlement and said it would “continue to vigorously defend itself based on the facts and the science in all other Zantac cases”.

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