By Karen Pihl-Carey
BOSTON - In a turbulent market, analysts say biotech companies must keep a close watch on product earnings, cash and upcoming catalysts to stay afloat. Sometimes, consolidation is the answer to financing problems.
But stock volatility can be caused by things other than company news, as evidenced by recent declining stock prices following a statement by President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the need for universal access to information derived from the Human Genome Project.
Analysts speaking at the BIO 2000 conference on Tuesday said irresponsible publicity and an ignorant retail market greatly can influence whether stocks go up or down.
"We all are looking at companies in depth," said Peter Ginsberg, managing director of U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray Inc., of Minneapolis. Analysts study companies closely and look for long-term value, he said. That is why he finds it "disconcerting that someone makes comments on CNBC and can run up the stock."
But those run-ups, or run-downs, usually are not sustainable, analysts said. And unlike many biotech analysts whose jobs are on the line if stocks blow up, others who speak off-handedly on the subject rarely have to answer to investors.
"The real difference is we're held accountable for what we say," said Eric Schmidt, vice president of SG Cowen Securities Corp., of New York.
None of the analysts believes the recent dip, or plunge, in biotech stock prices is a trend that will continue. Some said the industry is still overvalued as a whole, but there is a reason for optimism. With several product launches, the industry is just entering the growth phase of its life cycle, and it will be some time before it reaches the maturity phase, Ginsberg said.
May-Kin Ho, managing director of Goldman Sachs & Co., of New York, said there still is room for biotech stocks to go down. But the FDA process is better and the industry is better at developing products, she said. "We will have volatility in the next six months, but by the end of the year," stocks will begin going up again, she predicted.
In predicting successful companies, the analysts said they look for technologies that will ultimately have a big market share, and they look at how a company plans to reach profitability. Schmidt said he looks at management and how it handles outdated technology in moving forward.
Ginsberg said companies working on products for the cancer field catch his eye because cancer is often an indication with a $1 billion market that can be reached through a 50-person sales force.
Carol Werther, senior vice president of Adams, Harkness & Hill Inc., of Boston, said she looks for companies that are launching new breakthrough products.
"One great product can pretty much transform your company into a great power," she said.