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Now that Pfizer is the vaccine front-runner, should you buy the stock?

November 11, 2020, 3:34 PM UTC

Following an overwhelmingly positive update on the efficacy of its COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer earned pole position in the race, causing its share price to jump nearly 8% on Monday, hitting a 52-week high of nearly $42.

Though on Tuesday the stock closed a bit lower, just below $39, the vaccine news has certainly provided shareholders with hope that the company’s stock would finally break out of its pandemic funk. Of course, others were left wondering whether or not the jump in share price was simply an overreaction to news that ultimately wouldn’t have a significant impact on the pharmaceutical giant’s bottom line.  

The bullish case? That Pfizer’s status as the front-runner (in partnership with German company BioNTech) will in the short term provide a decent revenue bump and give investors a bridge to other equally promising drugs the company has in development. “Our enthusiasm on the company is not driven exclusively by the vaccine,” notes Vamil Divan, managing director of Mizuho Securities, who has raised his price target to $44 and has a “buy” rating on Pfizer shares. “It’s obviously good news both from a broader public health perspective and a company perspective. But our view overall is that within the broader Pfizer pipeline, the company has a very good sales and earnings growth outlook for the next five years or so.”

While Mizuho and Morgan Stanley project that the company will take in roughly $8 billion in sales between 2020 and 2021 as a result of its COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer brought in over $50 billion in total revenue in 2019, with core products such as Lipitor, Lyrica, Celebrex, Zithromax, and Viagra, among others, leading the way. Divan believes some of Pfizer’s other promising drugs in the pipeline—targeting diseases such as muscular dystrophy and psoriasis—are underappreciated by the market and have the potential to be blockbusters.

Divan believes the COVID-19 vaccine should provide Pfizer with a financially meaningful and steady revenue stream in the immediate future––fresh cash that can be used to fuel other M&A and R&D ventures––so long as it is effective and not outdone by the vaccines currently being developed by Big Pharma competitors. And that’s a big “if” for some.

For example, while Carter Gould, director of biopharma equity research at Barclays, acknowledges that the vaccine could “provide a pretty sizable revenue opportunity,” he believes that “one of the main takeaways of yesterday was, given the overwhelming efficacy, that you’re probably going to see multiple vaccines be efficacious.

“We’re neutral-rated on Pfizer,” Gould says. “In the long scheme of things, the stumbles they had with Ibrance [a potential treatment for early breast cancer patients that failed a recent trial] earlier in the year are going to weigh more on the company’s long-term financial prospects than the win on COVID…At $39, $40, you’re starting to get at points where the benefits of COVID are largely already priced in.”

Nonetheless, analysts note that a win was badly needed for Pfizer, as the company is facing a variety of patent expirations––its Prevnar 13, Eliquis, and Xtandi products to name a few––in the latter half of the decade. “Maybe this shows how the new Pfizer is going to be going forward,” Divan says. “A much more nimble, fast-acting company that can work quickly to address situations. Whereas the vast majority of people at the beginning of the year when asked about which company would get the market first and find the vaccine would not have said Pfizer, because it’s viewed as this old, slow-moving company.”