Agricultural biotechnology stocks, less glamorous than theirtherapeutic biotech cousins, have nevertheless risen with therest of the market for biotech stocks, gaining an average of 58percent for the quarter ended March 28.
However, if high flyer Ecogen Inc. of Langhorne, Pa., which rose299 percent, is excluded, the remaining stocks averaged a 37percent rise, compared with a 57 percent gain for the medicalbiotech sector. This still beat the 29 percent gain for the overallNASDAQ market.
The relatively lackluster performance of the ag sectorcompared with the drug stocks is in part due to the absence ofany fundamental news, such as a major product approval, saidMargaret McGeorge, a biotech analyst at Sutro & Co. in SanFrancisco.
Longer development times for ag products than investorsoriginally expected and uncertainty as to how the Food andDrug Administration will deal with engineered food productsalso kept the lid on stock prices, said McGeorge.
However, Jim McCamant, editor of the AgBiotech Stock Letter ofBerkeley, Calif., sees a positive aspect to the sector's first-quarter performance.
The past quarter is the first time since 1983 that companieswith less than $100 million in market capitalization haveperformed in line with the market, McCamant said. He sees thischange as a major cyclical event, and he expects smallcompanies to outperform the market for the next few years.
McGeorge also saw an opportunity for investors who takeadvantage of the lesser appeal of agbiotech stocks comparedwith therapeutics. Although investors are less excited aboutagricultural stocks, markets for many ag products are countedin billions of dollars, she pointed out.
In the long term, this could have important implications for asector with few players, McGeorge said. If these companies cansurvive the early stages of heavy research and developmentspending, they can enter large markets with little competition,she added.
Ecogen stock (NASDAQ:EECN) revived as New York investorDavid Blech pumped $10 million into the ailing company lastsummer. In January, Ecogen signed a $12.5 million deal withRoussel-Uclaf of Paris. The stock also gained last month whenCalifornia approved Ecogen's Cutlass pesticide.
Mycogen Corp., one of the three losers among the dozenagbiotech stocks tracked by BioWorld, declined 10 percent dueto investor disappointment in company earnings. Mycogen(NASDAQ:MYCO) had projected an improvement over its 1989loss of $1.9 million, but instead posted a $4.5 million loss due inpart to its $2.6 million write-down of an investment in SaferInc.
FIRST-QUARTER Stock Performance
Company Symbol Dec. 31 March 28 %change
Ecogen EECN 1.63 6.50 +299Syntro SYNT 1.50 3.38 +120Celgene CGNE 6.50 12.00 +85DNA Plant Tech DNAP 3.13 5.00 +60Crop Genetics CROP 3.38 5.13 +52Synbiotics SBIO 2.63 3.75 +43Biotechnica BIOT 2.00 2.63 +32Escagenetics(1) ESN 3.13 3.88 +24Calgene CGNE 6.25 7.38 +18Granada Bio GBI 9.75 8.88 -9Mycogen MYCO 14.50 13.00 -10InnoVet IVET 1.25 1.08 -18
(1)Price given for Escagenetics on March 28 is closing price forMarch 25, the day of the last previous trade.
-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff
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