Welcome to HL's reimagined News, Insights and Research experience. Find out more

Share research

AstraZeneca - Alexion costs weigh but revenue soars

First quarter revenue beat expectations and rose 60% to $11.4bn ignoring the impact of exchange rates.

No recommendation - No news or research item is a personal recommendation to deal. All investments can fall as well as rise in value so you could get back less than you invest.

Prices delayed by at least 15 minutes

This article is more than 1 year old

It was correct at the time of publishing. Our views and any references to tax, investment, and pension rules may have changed since then.

First quarter revenue beat expectations and rose 60% to $11.4bn ignoring the impact of exchange rates. This was driven by growth in most categories, the contribution of Alexion's portfolio of products and Covid-vaccine contracts.

Cash profits (EBITDA) fell 16% to $2.2bn, lower than market expectations. This reflected costs associated with the Alexion acquisition, including a $1.2bn charge related to the revaluation of Alexion's inventory. A 36% increase in Research and development costs also contributed to the decline.

The group continues to expect full year revenue to rise in the high teens and earnings per share to increase by a mid-to-high twenties percentage.

Shares were broadly flat following the announcement.

View the latest AstraZeneca share price and how to deal

Our View

AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine has made it a household name worldwide, but the group's promise to sell the vaccine at cost ''during the pandemic'' means it's padded revenue but not profits. 2022 will pave a new road for the group's coronavirus medicines business-with vaccine sales waning and a monoclonal antibody treatment making up a larger proportion of sales. This has already begun, though the vaccine still makes up the bulk of its Covid-related sales.

This in addition to the potential growth runway coming from the Alexion acquisition have given management the confidence to increase shareholder returns, but remember dividends are variable and not guaranteed.

Alexion brings rare disease treatments into the AZN fold, a fundamentally attractive area of the pharmaceutical market. The combination of Astra's massive distribution network and Alexion's specialized drugs should bring about a powerful windfall in the coming years.

Rare diseases are, by definition, uncommon. In the past spending millions, perhaps billions, on researching a drug to treat a few tens of thousands of patients worldwide didn't make financial sense. Instead attention focused on treatments for common diseases, like asthma, with patients stretching into the tens of millions. As a result, only around 5% of designated rare diseases have approved treatments.

More recently that attitude has shifted. While major diseases may have large markets, they also attract lots of competition. That means individual drugs companies can end up with a relatively small slice of a large pie. Competition in rare diseases is far lower - a drug company which develops a treatment for a previously unaddressed illness will likely end up serving the entire market and can probably attach a hefty price tag to boot. It's also unlikely a competitor will develop a more effective alternative, since competition is so much lower. Increased interest in the sector means the global rare disease market is forecasted to grow by a low double-digit percentage.

Breaking into this market didn't come cheap, though. The acquisition's sent net debt to uncomfortably high levels. But this pales in comparison to the potential growth the combination offers. This is particularly true when it comes to emerging markets. Alexion's been primarily selling to the US and Europe, but under Astra's wing a greater proportion can be sold further afield. This is of course dependent on regulatory approval, but as AZN already has footholds in these markets it should make the process more efficient.

Integrating the acquisition and ramping up its benefits will be of utmost importance moving forward. Debt's sitting at 2.2 times last year's underlying cash profits, which isn't unmanageable. But with interest rates on the rise, we'd like to see that continue to fall. On top of shareholder returns, the group's plans to build a new research centre suggests cash could be stretched thin. Any missteps could see the dividend trimmed.

We think Astra is pretty well placed. A strong core business and the promise of rising coronavirus treatment profits are encouraging. However, with a valuation beyond the long-term average, there's potential for volatility if there are any hiccups.

AstraZeneca key facts

All ratios are sourced from Refinitiv. Please remember yields are variable and not a reliable indicator of future income. Keep in mind key figures shouldn't be looked at on their own - it's important to understand the big picture.

First Quarter Results (constant currency)

Revenue rose across all geographic segments. The US remained the largest market, with sales up 79%. Emerging Markets is the second-largest and reported revenue growth of 32% despite a 6% decline in China. Europe and the Rest of World segments reported growth of 57% and 98% respectively.

BioPharmaceuticals (49% of total) saw a 53% uplift in sales to $5.6bn. This reflected double-digit growth in Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolism drugs and a $1.5bn increase in Vaccines & Immune Therapies led by the Covid vaccine Vaxzevria. Respiratory and Immunology revenue rose 2%, but continued to experience pandemic-related headwinds.

Oncology sales (30% of total) rose 18% to $3.4bn, as new product launches and increased access to some drugs offset declines in legacy medicines and the adverse impact of seasonal changes to Medicare payments in the US.

Revenue in Rare Disease (15% of total) rose 7% to $1.7bn. This part of the business houses drugs brought into the portfolio as part of the Alexion acquisition.

Revenue in Other medicines (4% of total) fell 15% to $425m.

Free cash flow was $3.0bn, up from $1.7bn reflecting the impact of depreciation and favourable working capital movements. Net debt rose $895m to $25.2bn.

The group's also planning to build a new research and development centre in Massachusetts and increase the size of it's existing centre in Connecticut.

This article is original Hargreaves Lansdown content, published by Hargreaves Lansdown. It was correct as at the date of publication, and our views may have changed since then. Unless otherwise stated estimates, including prospective yields, are a consensus of analyst forecasts provided by Refinitiv. These estimates are not a reliable indicator of future performance. Yields are variable and not guaranteed. Investments rise and fall in value so investors could make a loss.

This article is not advice or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any investment. No view is given on the present or future value or price of any investment, and investors should form their own view on any proposed investment. This article has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and is considered a marketing communication. Non-independent research is not subject to FCA rules prohibiting dealing ahead of research, however HL has put controls in place (including dealing restrictions, physical and information barriers) to manage potential conflicts of interest presented by such dealing. Please see our full non-independent research disclosure for more information.

Latest from Share research
Weekly newsletter
Sign up for editors choice. The week's top investment stories, free in your inbox every Saturday.
Written by
Laura Hoy
Laura Hoy
ESG Analyst

Laura is part of HL's ESG analysis team, working to offer research and analysis to help with sustainable decision making. She also works with other parts of the business to help integrate ESG.

Our content review process
The aim of Hargreaves Lansdown's financial content review process is to ensure accuracy, clarity, and comprehensiveness of all published materials
Article history
Published: 29th April 2022