Investment Thesis

Intercept Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ:ICPT) is in the news once again. This time, an article alleges OCA, the company’s only commercialized drug, has become the subject of an FDA investigation related to its safety. The stock, once battered by the company’s failed attempt to make OCA the first FDA-approved therapy for NASH, has slumped to trade near a 52-week low last week. The article has made no revelation, and the newly-identified safety signal, under evaluation as part of the FDA’s routine post-marketing surveillance, is classified as only a “potential risk” whose link to the drug is yet to be established.

As Intercept refocuses on OCA in PBC, the reputational damage can further decelerate the sale growth, already under pressure from the pandemic-related slowdown in new patient starts. Though the company leads in NASH therapeutic development, the highly complex path for a regulatory signoff rules out any premium for the current forward price-to-sales multiple, which, even with my optimistic revenue forecasts for 2020, identifies a modest premium for the stock. With the margin of safety being hardly adequate to offset the sales as well as R&D uncertainty, my neutral view on the stock remains.

Intercept Pharmaceuticals_Ocaliva


Intercept Suffers a Double Whammy

Not even a week had passed since its previous regulatory hurdle when I last penned my article on Intercept in early July. The stock had crashed ~39.7%, posting the sharpest one-day drop following the announcement of the CRL (Complete Response Letter), which relates to the NDA (New Drug Application) the company filed for OCA (obeticholic acid/Ocaliva) for liver fibrosis due to NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis). Despite the neutral rating on the stock, based largely on the uncertainty linked to the clinical development of liver therapies, I remained optimistic about the company’s prospects. After all, the FDA’s decision was based on

The market’s fall pullback is starting to reverse itself, but don’t worry: there are still bargain dividend payers yielding 7.4%+ dividends to be had out there.

But investing (along with everything in our lives!) has changed. You simply won’t get safe, high payouts by clutching to old habits and buying big-name, high-yielding S&P 500 stocks. The real dividend bargains are in closed-end funds (CEFs), which give you higher payouts, greater safety and often better returns over the long haul.

To show you what I mean, let’s line up three S&P 500 “dividend darlings” against the CEF competition and see how they compare. (Spoiler: it’s a blowout win for CEFs!)

AT&T: Big Dividend Lousy Return

AT&T (T) is a stock so old my grandmother has had it in her portfolio since before my mother was born. Ma Bell has been known as a huge income producer, with enticing 5%+ yields; today the stock’s yield is above 7%.

Such a big payout sounds like a slam dunk, so why not pick it up? To be honest, there are many reasons why this would be a bad move.

For one, AT&T’s net income fell 25% in 2019 from the prior year and has so far fallen 31.1% in 2020. As well, the company’s assets are barely growing as fast as its debts. Even if we ignored all of that, AT&T has badly underperformed the market over the long haul, even when you include its dividend!

The stock has done much worse than the alternative I’d suggest: the Liberty All-Star Growth Fund (ASG), which is full of companies that have beaten AT&T over the long haul, like (AMZN), Microsoft (MSFT) and Alphabet (GOOG). 

Plus, ASG gives you much more diversification than buying

A shortage of buyers in any market is a magnet for private equity. There were competing buyout bids for Walmart Inc.’s sale of a majority stake in U.K. grocer Asda. Trustbusters had already vetoed a domestic merger. One of the failed bidders, Apollo Global Management Inc., was simultaneously trying to buy listed bookmaker William Hill Plc, which has since agreed to a takeover by joint venture partner Caesars Entertainment Inc.

There’s a perception British takeover regulations hamper so-called take-private deals. Reforms were introduced in 2011 following Cadbury’s controversial purchase by what’s now Mondelez International Inc. Any leak of an approach requires the target to name the suitor, who must then formalize an offer within 28 days or walk away.

Private equity firms don’t like the idea that their tentative prospects could be made public given so many talks fail. The timetable is also tight for negotiating a price, conducting due diligence and securing financing. Meanwhile, hostile deals made over the heads of managers face due diligence snags and undermine buyout firms’ attempts to market themselves as a friendly corporate partner.

So the theory goes. In fact, deal activity held up after the rule changes, and there were several big U.K. take-private deals in defense engineering, satellites and theme parks in the year preceding the pandemic. Sterling’s weakness has helped and bidders know it may not last.

Now, if anything, private equity is getting more aggressive. GardaWorld’s hostile bid for rival security firm G4S Plc is backed by cash from 51%-owner BC Partners. True, it’s less risky for BC to support a portfolio company in a hostile takeover than to pick a fight on its own. Its Canadian partner knows the industry well, and any future problems with G4S would be shared. That’s safer than a leveraged buyout of just G4S