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Biotech Should Cash In on the Trump Bump While It Can

Nov. 22, 2016
As the Nasdaq Biotech Index has jumped 10% since Election Day -- including the biggest one-day jump in biotech shares in nearly a decade -- companies can now tap equity markets for funding more successfully. 

Biotech's Trump-inspired rally has been a major source of relief for the industry, in more than one way.

With the Nasdaq Biotech Index (NBI) up nearly 10% since Election Day -- including the biggest one-day jump in biotech shares in nearly a decade -- companies can now tap equity markets for funding more successfully. That's a big relief for companies depending on share sales to fund years of losses as they develop drugs.

But though the fundraising window is open a crack, it may not stay that way. There's currently a market consensus Donald Trump's administration will be friendly to biotech, but there's no guarantee that feeling, or Trump's amity, will last. Cash-hungry biotechs might want to take what they can get during the current rally instead of hoping for a bull-market return.

2016 has been something of a share-sale dead zone, as companies have been hesitant to dilute shareholders for meager returns. So far this year, 140 share sales by public U.S. biopharma companies with a market cap of less than $23 billion have raised about $7.23 billion. That compares unfavorably with 2015's bonanza, with 200 offerings raising more than $18 billion. It's not even up to the standard of  2013, when about the same number of offerings managed to raise $1.6 billion more.

Compared to 2015 and 2014, a greater concentration of share sales this year have been small, raising less than $100 million. Those offerings have netted firms less money, on average, as well. There have been fewer of the $100 million to $500 million offerings that can net hot biotechs several years' worth of cash in one go. There have been 20 such offerings so far in 2016, compared to 55 in 2015 and 41 and 2014.

There are glimmers of hope. Firms have already raised as much money in November as they did on all of October. A big chunk of this year's deals came in August and September, as the NBI hit its highs for the year after a 28% plunge to start 2016. The NBI is still near those highs, but that late-summer rally petered out. And this one very well might, too. 

Nobody quite knows what Trump's presidency will bring, and biotech is no exception. Non-political drug-pricing pressure is going to continue in 2016 regardless of what the new administration does. Watching the rest of the stock market hit all-time highs and hoping biotech will join in is not the safest bet.

After watching the NBI hit its own all-time high and then plunge as much as 27% in the third quarter of 2015, most firms opted for fundraising patience, assuming a more-substantive recovery couldn't be too far off. The fourth quarter of 2015 was the second-slowest quarter for biotech share sales in four years.

That forbearance was rewarded by another nearly 30% drop in share prices. Every firm that held off has been ruing the decision ever since. Sometimes patience just doesn't pay.

By Max Nisen

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