Biotech investors had every reason to feel bullish heading into the new decade. The sector had turned around in 2019 and was riding a wave of a very strong fourth-quarter performance, with the BioWorld Biopharmaceutical Index closing up 14% for the year after being underwater from April through to September. Unfortunately, those great expectations were quickly erased during J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference week (Jan. 10 – Jan. 17), which turned out to be a very low-key affair absent of any blockbuster M&A revelations. As a result, confidence has now given way to concerns about the prospects for biopharmaceutical companies going forward, particularly as unfavorable political rhetoric on drug pricing will certainly be dialed up during this election year.
Investors have grown accustomed to hearing news of major announcements from big pharma and blue chip biotech companies during the J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference week. However, as it turned out, headline catalysts were in short supply. In the absence of any major M&A deals taking place, the event turned out to be unusually muted.
Delegates convening in San Francisco Monday for the 38th Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference and other related biotechnology conferences running at the same time will certainly be in a better frame of mind than just 12 months ago. Back then, the sector had just come off a terrible fourth quarter, with investors shying away from biopharma company equities big time.
Investors warmed to biopharma company equities, particularly in the final quarter of the year, with the BioWorld Biopharmaceutical Index increasing 23% in value during this period, helping the group climb to a respectable 14% for the year after being underwater from April through to September.
It appears that the spirit of giving has come early, with leading biopharmaceutical companies providing investors with a surprise present of a significant jump in their share prices in October. The reversal in the sector's fortunes was catalyzed by an outpouring of positive news, including strong third-quarter financial results that has spilled over into early November.
Heading into the final quarter, the sector's leading biopharmaceutical companies once again underperformed the general market in September. Overall, the third quarter was extremely lackluster with investors showing little interest in getting involved, a situation that is likely to prevail until the end of the year. Companies will need to release strong 3Q financial reports just to tread water in the coming months.
It appeared that investors were far more interested in their vacations than in tracking the progress of blue-chip biopharma companies last month. Not helping their cause was the ongoing drug pricing debate taking place in Washington. The quest to reduce the cost of drugs moved a step closer with the Senate Finance Committee completing its markup of the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act and voting 19-9 to send the legislation to the full U.S. Senate.