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Is the Biotech Sector Still a Market Leader?

Eric Dutram

The biotechnology sector has been a strong performer for much of 2013. The space has seen huge gains over and above that of the broad market, with biotech benchmarks outpacing the S&P 500 by 1,000 basis points in some cases for the YTD time frame.

This outperformance of the biotech sector has been especially apparent during the recent spring swoon in equities that started at the beginning of April. During this period, biotech managed to hold up strong despite some troubling performances in many other corners of the market (read 3 Sector ETFs Surviving This Slump).

However, as a handful of biotech firms have seen their own earnings reports come in, the sector has faced some significant trouble. Key players in the space have reported lackluster results, suggesting to some that the boom in biotech may be nearing an end for now.

In particular, there was a very weak report from the sector’s biggest player, Amgen (AMGN), which weighed on investors in Wednesday trading. The California-based firm managed to top earnings estimates, posting results of $1.95/share compared to expectations of $1.75/share, but saw sluggish revenues.

Sales were up 5% to $4.24 billion, although analysts were looking for revenues of $4.37 billion from the biotech giant. This marked the first time in nearly three years (11 quarters) that the firm had missed expectations on this front, according to Bloomberg.

This rare miss on sales, pushed shares of AMGN down significantly in Wednesday trading, with the stock falling by over 6.9% on the day. This also spilled over into other big caps with firms like Gilead (GILD) sliding by 5%, and Celgene (CELG) losing over 6% as well.

And if investors were looking at the broad sector, via biotech ETFs, the impact of AMGN’s weakness was even more apparent. Four of the biggest ETFs in this corner of the fund world were down more than 2.2% on the session, including IBB, XBI, FBT, and BBH.

This is a pretty stark reversal for the sector, as biotech ETFs had been leading the market during the recent bout of turbulence. The shift is also leading some to think that market leadership might be shifting, and that other sectors like those related to housing, could be better plays in the near term.

What about you; do you think the best days are over for biotechnology, or is this just a temporary slump?

Let us know in the comments section below!

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