Drug company Valeant (VRX) was one of Wall Street’s hottest stocks for years. Hedge funds, Wall Street’s so-called smart money, piled into the stock as the company’s revenue skyrocketed. It was seemingly all based on a new business model. CEO Michael Pearson believed that drug companies were terribly inefficient spending money on research and development that often went no where.
Pearson had a new plan: Create a drug giant that focused on distribution, and let someone else do the research. The plan was of course controversial, and required rapid acquisitions to make it work. So Pearson started buying up rival drug companies, firing staff and slashing R&D. That was unpopular in the drug industry. And it also led the company to pile on debt. But for a while it seemed to work. Valeant’s stock rose and rose to a high of $260.
But in the past month, allegations have surfaced that Valeant’s true success may have been built on something else: Price gouging; a secret network of specialty pharmacies; and fraud. Valeant’s stock has plunged 60% in the past three months, and fell another 16% on Friday to $94. Here’s what happened during the fall:
August 14: Senator, and presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders and Congressman Elijah Cummings request information on why the company aggressively raised the price of two heart drugs.
September 28: Investigation of Valeant’s drug price strategy grows as 18 Democratic leaders call for a subpoena of the company. Outrage of drug price increases had been stirred by a New York Times story of a former hedge fund manager turned drug company CEO who hiked a drug used by AIDS patients by nearly 5500% overnight. Shares of Valeant fall 16%.
October 5: Study by Deutsche Bank analyst finds that it’s not just two drugs. The report concludes that Valeant has jacked up prices on 54 other meds this year alone by an average of 66%, far more than the rest of the drug industry.
October 6: Hedge fund Bill Ackman, and one of the Valeant’s largest shareholders, defends the drug company’s strategy saying it does a lot more to spur research and development than most people give the company credit for. The defense doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it falls on deaf ears.
October 15: Australian hedge fund manager John Hempton, who has long questioned Valeant’s accounting, is the first one to utter publicly utter the word Philidor. But Hempton’s cryptic post, written like a scene out of The Graduate, offers no clues as what Philidor is, or that it is connected to Valeant.
October 19: On an earnings call with analysts, Valeant CEO Pearson says the company will ease up on its strategy of buying up drugs it thinks are mispriced and hiking prices. Also that day, a story from the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation is the first to detail the odd ties between Valeant and Philidor, a rapidly growing specialty pharmacy that appears to be controlled by Valeant, but had never been disclosed to Valeant shareholders. The story says that R & O Pharmacy, an affiliate of Philidor, has sued Valeant saying it believes the drug giant may be the target of fraud or engaged in fraud itself.
October 20: A report by Citron Research, run by activist short-seller Andrew Left (who is actively shorting Valeant), reveals more information about Philidor and it’s network “of phantom captive pharmacies.” Left accuses the company of accounting fraud, and compares it to Enron.
October 22: Valeant calls Left’s report erroneous. The company says it hasn’t used Philidor to book fake sales. It says Philidor is a separate company, but that Philidor’s financials are included on Valeant’s financial statements. Valeant says it has purchased an option to buy the company. Shareholders are unpleased by the lack of disclosure and odd relationship. Valeant’s shares have now plunged 30% in three days. Left calls Valeant’s relationship with Philidor the “turd in the punchbowl.” Valeant says it will hold a conference call to clarify its relationship with Philidor, but says it won’t do it until after the weekend.
October 26: An investigation by the Wall Street Journal finds that Valeant employees were frequently involved with the operations at Philidor, and used fake aliases including those of comic book characters, like Peter Parker, to hide their identity. On Valeant’s conference call, the company discloses for the first time that it paid Philidor $100 million to buy the company. But it maintains that the operations of the two companies are separate. Valeant says it believes it has done nothing wrong. But says it’s forming a special committee of the board to investigating its relationship with Philidor. Still, the conference call is unable to boost Valeant’s stock and leaves plenty of questions unanswered.
October 30: Valeant says it is cutting its ties to Philidor, and that the pharmacy will shut down immediately. Allegations have emerged that Philidor may have changed prescriptions to push Valeant’s high-priced drugs on patients, rather than generics. Ackman holds a four-hour conference call to defend the company. He predicts the stock will more than double. On the call, Ackman refers to a number of instances of fraud in the drug industry and the large settlements that the companies had to pay. He says Valeant is likely to be under legal scrutiny for a while. But the conference call has the opposite affect: Valeant’s shares fall another 16%.