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What investors need to know about Pfizer’s latest downgrade

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early-stage pipeline, though promising, is still too premature to make up for the looming loss of billions of dollars from the company’s COVID-19 franchise, which includes the vaccine it developed with BioNTech
and the antiviral Paxlovid, according to UBS Securities.

UBS analysts on Thursday downgraded Pfizer’s stock to neutral from buy, making two key points: the 2023 revenue estimates for the COVID vaccine and Paxlovid are still too high, and the company’s pipeline isn’t ready to make up the difference. At least not yet. 

The company’s shares closed Thursday at $44.25, a three-month low.

“The key to PFE upside in the near term is continued [business development] to augment long-term growth and dilute the impact of the declining COVID franchise,” they wrote.

These concerns echo what analysts at Bank of America and Wells Fargo told investors earlier this month when they also downgraded Pfizer’s stock. 

The company’s swift choice to develop a COVID vaccine with BioNTech was strategic in many ways. The shot generated $36.8 billion in sales in 2021 and is expected to bring in another $34 billion in 2022. However, as the pandemic has shifted into endemicity, Pfizer’s lucrative bet is starting to wind down. The shot will likely have $13.6 billion in sales in 2023, according to a FactSet consensus, while UBS now expects only $12.2 billion of sales in 2023, compared with its previous estimate of $19.5 billion.  

It’s a similar story with Paxlovid, which had $12.3 billion in sales in 2021 and is expected to have generated $12.5 billion in sales in 2022. The FactSet consensus predicts even more sales in 2023, up to $13.3 billion. However, UBS said it now expects significantly lower sales, of $7.2 billion this year.

All of this has put the company in the crosshairs of investors who want to know what’s next. 

Even Pfizer’s raft of deals in 2022 — an $11.6 billion acquisition of Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, a $6.7 billion purchase of Arena Pharmaceuticals, and buying Global Blood Therapeutics for $5.4 billion — haven’t deterred those concerns. 

“While PFE has been proactive in business development, we struggle to gain conviction in a continued cadence/quality of deals to offset the COVID franchise and loss-of-exclusivity headwinds,” they wrote.

Pfizer’s stock has declined 17% over the past year, while the SPDR S&P Pharmaceuticals ETF
has gained 3.6% over the past 12 months.

The company is set to report its fourth-quarter earnings on Tuesday. 


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