U.S. markets closed

A Tale of 3 Healthcare Stocks – 2 to Buy, and 1 to Sell

When investment bank Oppenheimer talks, investors listen -- or they should.

One of the 10 top performing research firms tracked by TipRanks, 61% of Oppenheimer's stock picks have "worked" historically, producing positive returns for investors. In fact, on average, these picks have generated positive returns approaching 12%, and well ahead of the stock market's long term 10% average returns.

And spread across a field of nearly 11,000 stock picks over more than a decade, that's no fluke.

So when Oppenheimer announced on Wednesday that it's taken a good hard look at the healthcare industry, and come up with two stocks it's confident it can recommend buying -- and one it's pretty sure should be sold -- this is advice investors should give careful consideration.

Let's find out what Oppenheimer has to say, beginning with:

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN)

Regeneron is one of a strange breed in biotech -- a company that actually makes money. 32 years in business, Tarrytown, NY-based Regeneron develops medicines to treat a wide array of illnesses, everything from age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy (Eylea) to atopic dermatitis (Dupixent) to atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (Praluent) and locally advanced cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (Libtayo).

Oppenheimer analyst Hartaj Singh makes the case that Regeneron -- already doing $7.6 billion in annual sales and earning in excess of $2.1 billion annually -- is preparing to advance to the "next level of commercial and R&D growth" as competition to Eylea abates and the company intensifies its focus on growing Dupixent sales -- a $10 billion potential market.

At the same time, Singh is impressed with Regeneron's "burgeoning internally generated pipeline" in 2020, which the analyst calls "best-in-class," as well as with management's "renewed focus on cost control" and planned $1 billion share buyback. Combined, these two moves promise to increase profits -- then divide them up among fewer shares outstanding, accelerating growth in earnings per share.

As a result, Singh rates Regeneron stock "outperform" with a $450 price target, promising better than 25% upside from current prices. (To watch Singh's track record, click here)

However, Wall Street isn’t completely sold on Regeneron. TipRanks analysis of 11 analysts shows a consensus Moderate Buy rating, with 4 analysts recommending Buy, while 7 recommending Hold. The average 12-month price target on the stock is $396.33, representing about 10% increase. (See Regeneron stock analysis on TipRanks)

Novavax (NVAX)

Oppenheimer's second stock pick takes us back to more familiar territory: biotech stocks that aren't earning money (at least not yet). Analyst Kevin DeGeeter's pick of vaccine specialist Novavax is clearly headlines-driven, and specifically, timed to align with recent news that the coronavirus outbreak that began in Chinese provincial capital Wuhan, has now arrived in America, with the first reported U.S. infection reported in Seattle Wednesday.

As DeGeeter explains, the "outbreak of potent new strain of coronavirus infections" will remind investors "of the power of NVAX's flexible vaccine development infrastructure." And yet, it's not the primary reason DeGeeter likes Novavax in 2020. This is because DeGeeter expects it will take Novavax a good six to nine months to develop a vaccine effective against the new Chinese illness -- by which time 2020 will be basically over.

Rather, this analyst views the "upcoming Phase III readout in March from NanoFlu recombinant hemagglutinin (HA) protein nanoparticle for protection against seasonal influenza as the primary value driver" for Novavax stock. Strong Phase II clinical trial results have DeGeeter thinking that Phase III results will be likewise positive, and perhaps enough so to convince the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve NanoFlu for sale as early as 2021. Once that happens, DeGeeter sees a strong chance that Novavax will sell itself to a high bidder.

For this reason, DeGeeter is positing a rise in share price from $7.20 currently, to $13 a share by early 2021. Granted, an 80% return in 12 months' time may sound optimistic, but it could actually be conservative. (To watch DeGeeter's track record, click here)

On Wall Street, the average target price among analysts tracking Novavax stock is $17.38 per share -- 34% more than what Oppenheimer is promising. (See Novavax stock analysis on TipRanks)

Amarin Corp (AMRN)

As much as Oppenheimer's analysts like Regeneron and Novavax, they are quite bearish on Amarin, a seller of prescription-only omega-3 fatty acid capsules for treating high triglyceride levels in patients. Oppenheimer comes to its "underperform" recommendation on Amarin by an interesting route.

To start with, analyst Leland Gershell notes that AstroZeneca's discontinuation of a clinical trial for a product (Epanova) that would compete with Amarin's triglycerides drug (Vascepa) is a positive for Amarin stock. Although other competing treatments exist (Acasti Pharma's CaPre for example, and Matinas BioPharma's MAT9001), the removal of Epanova from the mix implies greater market share for Vascepa -- and an increased, $13 price target for Amarin stock.

That being said, Gershell warns that "AMRN's opportunity to exit through acquisition [is] diminishing," which is to say the chances of the company finding a buyer willing to acquire Amarin at a premium valuation don't look as good as they once did. For this reason, despite raising its price target on the stock, Oppenheimer's still ends up thinking that Amarin, at a share price of nearly $21 (i.e. still 60% above what it thinks the stock is worth), remains overpriced and unlikely to outperform the market from here on out.

In short, despite improved prospects for its marquee drug, the fact that the prospects for the company fetching a premium buyout prices are worse means Amarin merits a sell rating.

All in all, Wall Street almost evenly split between the bulls and those choosing to play it safe. Based on 10 analysts tracked in the last 3 months, 5 rate Amarin stock a Buy, 4 say Hold, while 1 issues a Sell. Notably, the 12-month average price target stands at $29.88, marking a nearly 44% in return potential for the stock. (See Novavax stock analysis on TipRanks)