Amgen And Its Rather Anemic Stock Performance

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CNBC.com

Shares of Amgen closed just above 43 bucks yesterday. That's more than a five-year low. And they're falling even lower in early trading this morning. Today the company is making its first investor presentation since last week's FDA advisory committee vote to restrict usage of Amgen's anemia drugs on cancer patients.

So, I listened to the webcast of Dr. Roger Perlmutter, Amgen's research and development chief, making his remarks at the Cowen and Co. Healthcare Conference.

At least in the formal presentation Dr. Perlmutter didn't say much new. He hopes an independent review of chemo-induced anemia patients who've received the fatigue-fighting drugs will possibly reveal a way to predict who might respond well and who might not. He said the company is working closely with the FDA to act on last week's panel recommendations and to negotiate new language for the drugs' label which he expects to be approved in the "relatively near future."

He concluded by saying, "Our (pipeline) strategy is evolving. It's been a good ride for us (referring to the number of new drugs Amgen got approved over the past several years), we've gotten a lot of stuff done, but the future looks even better."

The good stuff came in the Q and A. When asked about the potential impact of the panel votes on Amgen's financial guidance he said the company anticipated this type of outcome when it issued this year's forecast. "What we got is very similar to what we expected," he said.

Dr. Perlmutter said he doesn't think it's a good idea to restrict the use of the anemia drugs to certain tumor types or based on patient prognosis as the panel recommended. And he added that he believes the FDA will adopt "some aspect of the recommendations". The agency is expected to issue a ruling within a month or two.

Meantime, late yesterday Moody's put a couple of Amgen's ratings under review for a possible downgrade. In a statement, the ratings agency said, "Although the (FDA) panel recommendation does not represent a worst-case scenario, Moody's has previously stated that Amgen's key credit ratios may not have sufficient cushion to absorb any further decline in Aranesp sales at the current rating level."

And last night analyst Mark Schoenebaum--still apparently hard at work at Bear Stearns--put out a research note to clients (I guess investors must still be buying the company's research) about Amgen's ongoing legal battle with Roche over the launch of a competing anemia drug for kdney dialysis patients. Apparently new legal briefs in the case got posted yesterday.

Here's Schoenebaum's take (the caps are his emphasis):

ALTHOUGH THE PROBABILITIES FAVOR AMGEN IN THE LONGER RUN (APPEAL, ETC), THE RISK REWARD FOR THE SHARES INTO THE JUDGE'S DECISION IN LATE MARCH/EARLY APRIL IS LIKELY NOT FAVORABLE. US Epogen and Aranesp for kidney represent about $1.50 of Amgen's ~$4.00 EPS.

Schoenebaum or someone in his household is long AMGN. The disclosures still say Bear Stearns would like to bank Amgen and makes a market in the shares.

Dr. Perlmutter is heading from Cowen's conference in Boston to Miami where he will be making a similar presentation at the Lehman Global Healthcare Conference at 8 am ET tomorrow. You can register for the webcast at www.amgen.com.

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