Woes Start Piling Up for Moderna
November 12, 2021
Moderna has been a stock market darling but its share price has fallen by around half from its 52-week high. Now, problems are piling up for the company which has slashed its revenue projections largely based on lower-than-expected sales of its COVID-19 vaccine. The company also faces a lawsuit from the U.S. National Institutes of Health over ownership of that vaccine. Those problems, along with concerns about the future when the pandemic ends,have been a drag on the company’s stock which could fall further. Maxx Chatsko joins “7investing Now” to break down what’s happening and share what might happen next.
Sam Bailey 0:15 Welcome to 7Investing Now, a show that teaches you how to take a long term view on investing by better understanding what’s happening in the market now.
Dan Kline 0:25 Good afternoon and welcome to the Friday, I decided to think about what day it was the Friday edition of 7Investing Now. My name of course is Daniel Brooks Kline. I’m being joined by Maxx Chatsko. We are going to talk about what’s wrong with Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA). And we’ll touch on the Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) news today.
Apologies if I’m Maxx not 100% on my A game, as you know, I flew back from Las Vegas yesterday and I’m not going to say boy are my arms tired. I flew back from Vegas yesterday and my body clock is ridiculous. And my actual clock was off. I for like an hour could not get my watch to sync back to East Coast time. So apparently my Fitbit would prefer to be in Vegas. With that, how are you doing? How are things in Pittsburgh today, Maxx?
Maxx Chatsko 1:11 I’m doing well. No, no crazy. flights for me. I went to Maine recently earlier this month and my flights are delayed. Did you have any delays this time? Or no? Are you good?
Dan Kline 1:19 I had like a 20 minute delay. And then it just didn’t happen. So that really could have screwed up with some people like in the app. It said we were leaving like 20 minutes later, which didn’t matter I had about a 65 minute stopover. But then it just boarded and took off at the right time. So I feel like there’s some guy who went out for a cigarette and came back and like the plane has left.
Now it’s the normal in the pandemic, post pandemic, whatever you want to call it, travel chaos, where like everything has a stop. It’s just that much harder to do anything. There’s always like one person on the plane that doesn’t know how a mask works. And the flight attendant has to like endlessly say something, or it used to be on Southwest, it will get to Moderna momentarily. It used to be that you would that since the pandemic, they would just have four beverages and you would just say a number. They’ve expanded that to like eight or nine and they didn’t number them.
So like it takes them like way longer than it should to order and you’re not supposed to take your mask off. But like half of the people, it’s a mess, they are flying. I like to fly. This is not a fun time to fly, but bad news for moderna. And before we talk about this, Maxx, you have a theory about 100 billion dollar valuations, not even a theory, you actually proved it out pretty well. But in the case of healthcare companies or biotech drug companies, whatever you want to call them, once you get to $100 billion valuation, generally that’s not good. Right. Like, there is no place to go after that but down.
Maxx Chatsko 2:48 Yeah, it came up I think with like members maybe or somewhere and you know, a lot of people think like, well, the the best companies, the biggest companies are the leaders of healthcare globally. Well, those are the places they put your money, right? Those must be good investments, they pay out dividends, they buy back stock, they’re gobbling up all the innovative companies eventually, right? They’re selling the most products have the most revenue.
And to me that just I’ve never seemed correct, because I’ve been following this stuff for a while. And so I went in and actually made a database, every company that’s ever every drug developer, that’s crossed a $100 billion market valuation, and then I track the performance of each company. From the day it became a $100 billion company against the s&p 500. Only two have ever actually outperformed the s&p 500 in the long run. One of those is Johnson and Johnson which we’re going to talk about later. The other is Novo Nordisk, although Novo Nordisk is currently trading about a three times more expensive valuation than any of its peers.
So that’s probably not very sustainable to kind of getting this bump, Novo Nordisk if you’re ever worried about insulin prices being too high, Novo Nordisk is who you should blame the markets we’re working on right now, but it’s probably not going to last. So most of the drug probably good, pretty terrible performance, Merck underperformed the s&p 500 by over 500%. That’s insanity. So once a company gets higher, this type of market valuation a drug developer that is very difficult to beat the S&P 500.
And it comes down to revenue replacement cycles. So you know, at some point, you get to a very big valuation, because you have one of the best selling drugs or many of the best selling drugs, eventually, they lose patent protection, they lose market exclusivity. And then new products that you introduce, you’re just replacing the revenue lost from this old product. So very difficult to grow. Beyond a certain level there is like a ceiling on how big drug developers can get.
Dan Kline 4:38 It’s weirdly a lot like the movie business. Aside from aside from Disney, where like, if you have an unexpected hit, that’s great, but like you look at like next year, like Oh, crud, I’m not gonna have that level of hit again. So we talked about this in my space, in the retail space where I basically said that in theory, you could own a retailer, I’ll give Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) as an example. There is a point where Starbucks will have built a location every place that could possibly be. And they’ve iterated in every way possible in grocery and in premium. And for them to grow, they’d have to launch something else.
And the ability for Starbucks to launch like the Starbucks of pizza, and have it be like scaled is almost impossible. So at some point, in theory, it’s never happened. But at some point, like in a retail investment or restaurant investment, you might get to the idea that you’re not going to be able to grow anymore. Is there a point with you, Maxx? Like, is it 50 billion? Is it 75 billion where maybe it’s time to get out? And we don’t talk about selling a lot? And I know, it’s not a hard and fast number. And I promise, we will get to your question starting to starting to see a couple in the queue. But, Maxx, go ahead.
Maxx Chatsko 5:47 Yeah, I haven’t actually pulled the data for below $100 billion market valuation, if you’ve invested in Johnson and Johnson for 40 years, then you should probably hold on to your shares, your dividend payments alone are probably funding your private island. But you know, that’s why I stick to the smaller, newer emerging companies. That’s where most of your gains are made right as they come onto the scene as they gain recognition as they become derisked.
But to me, just investing in the largest companies isn’t very attractive. For the same reason I just showed with the data set, very difficult to grow once they hit that market valuation, so your future returns are going to be limited. And as we saw very difficult to keep up with the S&P 500, which is now mostly driven by technology, it’s just hard to keep up with software companies that are capital light, they can grow very quickly, they can scale infinitely, very, very, very difficult to do to outperform that as a very large drug developer.
Dan Kline 6:42 So Moderna has been, I don’t know that the word is struggling because obviously they had the the COVID vaccines and now the COVID vaccine boosters, and I have a feeling that they’re going to be pushing for COVID vaccine booster boosters, or, or whatever you might call it. But that being said, and by the way, DC Comics Booster Gold, we got to get them out there one of my favorite characters very underutilized. But they’ve revised down some of their projections. Tell me a little bit about what that looks like Maxx.
Maxx Chatsko 7:10 Yeah, so I kind of color this today is talking about some of Moderna’s woes. And there’s two or three rows here that we want to talk about. So the first ones, they recently had to cut their expectations for the number of doses they’ll deliver this year. And also, you know, by extension, their expected revenue totals for full year 2021. Previously, Moderna was expecting 800 million to 1 billion doses delivered this year. Now that is been reduced to 700 million to 800 million doses. Still a lot of vaccine doses.
Dan Kline 7:42 Let me jump in Maxx is that based on demand or production?
Maxx Chatsko 7:46 I believe it’s due to a combination of production and supply agreements, because governments are buying these right. They’re not selling this to Daniel Kline hoarding 15 doses of moderna in his basement.
Dan Kline 7:56 Oh, speak for yourself, I’ve got nothing but moderna, and my own proprietary Danicillin, which has not gone well. But no, of course, neither of those things is true.
Maxx Chatsko 8:06 I’m gonna immediately trademark Danicillin after the show.
Dan Kline 8:09 I’m allergic to penicillin. So I need to invent my own version of me to
Maxx Chatsko 8:12 Me too! Well now everybody knows how to kill us. We’ll have to cut that out. revenue projections for Moderna also reduced previously expecting $20 billion in revenue, now 15 billion to 18 billion. So a much deeper reduction, then the dose deliveries would just, that’s because the company is going to prioritize deliveries to namely Africa and developing nations where the price per dose is a little bit lower.
So again, we just talked about this, you know, very difficult for companies that are this large to really outperform. And, look, this isn’t really a knock on Moderna. I mean, few companies ever generate any revenue in drug development, let alone $15 billion ever, let alone $15 billion a year. So even coming at the low end of guidance is really spectacular for the company. And if you’ve been a long term shareholder, awesome, but from here, it’s going to be very difficult for the company to grow revenue COVID vaccine business is going to decline probably rapidly, probably sooner than people expect.
So you know, three, four years from now it’s gonna have a lot of cash, maybe not a lot of revenue, and then it has to spread its bets and hopefully the pipeline starts actually deliver.
Dan Kline 9:18 Maxx, they have other problems. And we’ll get to those. We, of course, would love your questions and comments, but But let me ask, can they buy their way out of this? Are there smaller companies with promising products that they should just be throwing money at because you kind of just need to find more hits to keep things going, right?
Maxx Chatsko 9:34 Yeah, they’re going to be doing that and they’ve started to form some new partnerships and collaborations with some smaller companies. For example, Moderna is really interested in you know, looking at gene editing or next generation gene editing. So they recently formed a partnership with a company called Metagenomi. So it’s like a next generation, they just discover a lot of different gene editing enzymes that can be used. So Moderna is interested in that.
The reason That makes sense is that when you’re delivering gene editing enzymes, you’re actually using the enzymes you’re delivering to cells, the mRNA. So that cell will then make that enzyme and protein, it’s actually a little safer means that the gene editor is not going to go off target as much. So it makes sense for Moderna, which is an expert in mRNA. To maybe, you know, partner up with some of those. It’s a good extension.
But those drug products are going to take a long time to develop, and definitely not going to be in like one one major gene editor product is not going to come close to matching the revenue from a Coronavirus vaccine, right. So it’s gonna be many, many, many products to get on the market just to get back to $15 billion in annual sales in the future.
Dan Kline 10:46 I feel like we have the plot for a James Bond movie because very clearly it would benefit moderna to create the next pandemic. I don’t want to give them that idea. That’s a little bit scary. They have other problems, though. They’re also being being sued by the NIH. That’s the National Institutes of Health, a US government agency for ownership of their COVID-19 vaccine. That is not good. Why don’t you explain what’s going on there, Maxx?
Maxx Chatsko 11:15 the optics are terrible, right? I mean, people, you know, criticize moderna for prioritizing profits. And you can argue, well, you know, they need to make money, this fat, the other thing, they’re making a lot more money than they need in great excess. And sure, you know, they were very important in solving the pandemic. But, you know, and again, it’s not their fault, the government agreed to pay them certain prices, but, man, now they’re doing this.
So the NIH had three scientists are the NIH and moderna works together early on right to develop a lot of these tools. And three scientists, in particular from the NIH helps Moderna to settle on the sequence of the spike protein from the Coronavirus that would became the actual vaccine for Moderna. Moderna put NIH scientists on most of its patents, but then conspicuously left those three off this patent, which is the core patent for the you know, entire technology platform for Coronavirus vaccines.
The NIH has been trying to work with the behind the scenes saying hey, look, give us credit do this because if the NIH has rights to the patent, then maybe the US government can actually out license this globally or, you know, donate it to developing nations at a different cost. Moderna obviously has incentive to not do that, right doesn’t want to give away the vaccine for free. So this become a really not great optics. And so the NIH says, Alright, we’ll see you in court. Not good to go up against the US government, A. B, everything Modernas said after this in an attempt to defend itself just makes it look really bad. It’s really terrible. So this is not good optics to have, especially not when your revenue projections were just cut pretty dramatically in recent weeks so.
Dan Kline 12:55 Things don’t move quickly in court, though, is this likely to end up being settled? Because courts tend to take yours though. I guess the US government could probably wait for its money.
Maxx Chatsko 13:04 Yeah, that’s a good point. I haven’t really thought about that. I don’t know how quickly this might move. Maybe it was quicker due to what’s involved and what’s at stake. I’m sure it could then get appealed and appealed and appealed. But either way, I mean, this could threaten the future potential that modernas platform. And there’s a lot of investors who think like, well, we’re going to be selling Coronavirus vaccines for the next decade. Well, you know, maybe not right? And if the US government eventually gets rights to these, which it should, that probably tanks, a lot of revenue projections for 2023, 2024, 2025, whatever it might be. So it still does impact the company because the valuation is really kind of priced for perfection right now.
Dan Kline 13:44 And this has been pretty bad for Moderna stock, right? This is this has been trending the wrong way. And it doesn’t sound like it’s going to trend back in the other direction. Let’s close on that note.
Maxx Chatsko 13:53 Yeah this is the third world or final closing Whoa, for Moderna. You know, it was priced for perfection. Just you know, this summer. On July 14, if it came to 16th, drug developer to ever reach a $100 billion market valuation, I made some public comments, I said, “Hey, look, History suggests, you know, returns are going to be limited from here.” Within like four or six weeks or something is like almost doubled again, right? The peak market valuation went to $195 billion.
A lot of people called old Maxxy here an idiot, but uh, whoa, whoa, who has the last laugh? Because right now, Moderna shares are underperforming the s&p 500 by 15%. Since the day it crossed a $100 billion market valuation. So a lot of that, you know, surge in that to that peak market valuation was really based on momentum, right? It wasn’t based on the underlying fundamentals wasn’t based on the revenue projections. A lot of people thinking, you know, just making the wrong conclusions about the company or maybe just chase momentum for quick money on trading.
That’s not how we do at 7 Investing, of course, right long term investing. So again, you have to be mindful evaluations. Be careful on drug developers, you’re not really you’re not investing in, in technology, you’re investing in businesses. And there are limits to like what a company should be valued at. So since the peak shares are down 53%. So definitely a good reminder to investors, you know, be mindful of valuations.
Dan Kline 15:17 You just touched upon a trend. We’ve seen a lot of I talked about this with Steve earlier this week, when it comes to cannabis stocks. Everyone heard the rumor, well, not the rumor, the truth that a Republican Congress person is going to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana, and every marijuana stock every cannabis stock across the board skyrocketed. Well, here’s the reality. A lot of those are going to be bad.
But think of it this way. If you you know, the NBA is going to sign a much bigger higher value television contract, don’t just go out and invest in every person with a basketball, you have to pick the best ones. And that is kind of how it works. And obviously, with drug companies, you want to be on the ride up. It’s not all that sustainable once you get there.
But we are going to talk about next, a company that has been sustainable. I’ll give you a get rid of the word. I can see you chomping at the bit there. Maxx but we are going to talk about Johnson and Johnson in a few minutes. But Maxx, I will let you respond to what I said there.
Maxx Chatsko 16:15 Yeah, well, just sticking with a cannabis stock example. Remember years ago, I think it was when Canada was starting to deregulate. Remember what happened to all those valuations? I mean, Canopy Growth and Khronos Group mean, everybody did like that, like 10s of billions of dollars. $10 billion, crazy. And if you invested then, then you’re still down like 80%. So it doesn’t make sense.
Dan Kline 16:38 People also in Canada didn’t understand the nuance of it, there are very strict rules about how you can display cannabis. And in the US, it varies quite a bit. So I was just in Vegas. And if you go into Vegas, it’s full on Candyland. Everything can have cool packaging, it can have, you know, enticing displays can’t be aimed at kids. But that’s basically it.
If you’re here in Florida, where there’s medical only everything is very drab, very basic. There are no candies or other fun things, you know, it’s just so even if we have federal legalization, that might look a lot like like cigarettes do where you know, you basically have to hand a pack of cigarettes over with a person like yelling at you that you’re gonna die if you touch them. And that’s certainly possible with this. So just be really careful.
Here’s the reality, even if you’re trading the news, you don’t know what that wave is going to look like. So when you’re trading news that is just like artificially inflating something. It’s not news, if something actually good happening. You need to be really, really careful. Daigo ask the questions. Dan, how did you come up with worst ideas seven? Worst ideas is not a comment on my investing skills. Worst ideas is from the title of my book, Worst Ideas Ever. It is a very funny book. It goes in and out of stock on Amazon, you can buy a Kindle copy if you like. They don’t send me any money. When you do that. That’s how the publishing industry works. They pay you very little, and then don’t send you any more. But I am very proud of the book. And the seven is of course, because we are 7Investing.
Maxx Chatsko 18:13 I was trying to get him to use seven in front of worst ideas. It’d be seven worst ideas. And then I thought he could play off that on Twitter. But he didn’t. He didn’t like the idea.
Dan Kline 18:20 Yeah, that felt like I’d be dissing our own picks. And what are our picks? Every month on the first of the month, we release each one of us our highest conviction stock pick for the month we do a big write up with that. We do a massive video where we all can push back, we can ask questions of each other. We had one this month that was absolutely heated. And when I say heated, I mean it in a positive and supportive way we all like each other and get along makes it actually easier to ask hard questions. When you have that sort of underlying support and trust in each other.
How do you become a member This is really easy. You go to 7Investing.com/subscribe. Once you are there, you’ll be asked all the normal information, your name and your email address. And then we will ask you to give us either $49 a month American dollars or $399 a year that is an incredible deal. That’s like three point something free months, it’s probably more than that. I’m not great at math.
If you are a student, we have an $84 a year, not a month $84 A year students subscription. In theory, you should be able to sign up for that with your student email. If it doesn’t work, send an email to info@7Investing.com or if you’d like to buy a holiday gift of a regular subscription or a student’s subscription, Steve Symington will take very nice care of you if he does not hit me up on Twitter and I’ll give you Steve’s home address and you can go visit him in Montana. I will not do that. That is absolutely a joke Maxx.
We are going to segue a little bit. We woke up this morning. It seems to be the new trend for old school companies we haven’t thought about in a really long time to break up into pieces. We saw GE doing it. And I only ever think of GE because I grew up in a GE community. I grew up in Swampscott, Mass. It has a very large General Electric plants. So I’ve always sort of been aware of them as a major employer.
But this morning, it’s Johnson and Johnson and they are not splitting into two companies, one called Johnson and the other called Johnson. One of them is going to carry the Johnson and Johnson name. They haven’t said what the other one would be called. But at Maxx, why don’t you give us an overview of what’s happening here and sort of the why.
Maxx Chatsko 20:30 It’s interesting, right. We saw this from General Electric recently. And I think that’s a good move. And ironically, by being so far behind General Electric’s actually ahead because now it’s one of the first companies to announce this and it seems like everybody else is piling on Johnson and Johnson splitting up think Toshiba, right? We were talking about this morning, Dan,
Dan Kline 20:46 That’s another one I had, who still has a Toshiba?
Maxx Chatsko 20:49 They’re going to split up DVD players and VCRs I think is the rumor. So that’s a good split for them. Johnson and Johnson though, is kind of splitting up into two different businesses. One’s going to separate its personal care portfolio. So like Listerine mouthwash and shampoos, and all those things, you know, no, no tear shampoo is that still Johnson and Johnson?
Dan Kline 21:09 it is and Band-Aids. And, yeah, here’s basically one’s a consumer products business. That’s very, very stable. The other one is a emerging, you know, medicine business, which has all the problems we talked about earlier, right?
Maxx Chatsko 21:25 Yes, sort of. So right, personal care business will be one, Johnson and Johnson will retain the medical devices, and then all of the drug products. So you know, there’s a lot of articles saying, well, the higher risk drug product business and well, yeah, it’s all relative, like, I suppose developing drug candidates is riskier than making shampoo and bandaid, right?
But I mean, this is Johnson & Johnson, this is the largest drug developer in the world, even when it separates, it’s going to have the most revenue of any drug developer. So Johnson and Johnson knows what it’s doing. It’s also been the only one that’s outperformed the s&p 500 since crossing a $100 billion market valuation. So be careful when you read those headlines saying it’s riskier. It is. But it’s Johnson and Johnson risky. It’s not tiny little startup that Maxx started in his basement risky, right? So important to note the distinctions there.
Dan Kline 22:16 Yeah, and Maxx be very careful, I’ve seen a lot of superhero movies, the villain often gets created by experimenting in their basement, the hero, it’s always accidental, the villain, it’s always that they push something too far. Do we think this is a good idea? I mean, these businesses have become very, very different. So from like a, but it’s not like there aren’t a lot of companies out there that own very, very different businesses. It’s just the new trend, or is this something you see as a positive?
Maxx Chatsko 22:46 Yeah, I mean, spin offs and splitting into two or three is, you know, a way to unlock shareholder value. That’s how it’s built up anyway. Well, there was another one that Dow DuPont years ago, remember they, they joined forces and then split off into three different pieces. Now some of those are splitting off into smaller pieces. So it’s always built and sold as this way to unlock shareholder value. And I think when it works, that can absolutely be the case.
So I think this is a smart move for Johnson and Johnson, maybe, you know, as a standalone company, a personal care business could maybe direct resources more efficiently focus on the right growth initiatives. Who knows maybe Johnson and Johnson wasn’t paying enough attention to it, or kept it on a short leash, because it was way more interested in its drug business. But even though I think it’s a good move, it’s still relative.
Personal Care businesses have been struggling a lot in recent years look at Procter and Gamble, for example, right, another one. So I think the road ahead is still pretty, pretty tough. I mean, even Johnson and Johnson’s personal care business and portfolio has had pretty limited revenue growth since 2000. So almost two decades. And since 2010, it almost hasn’t grown revenue at all, all of the growth is really in the pharmaceutical business.
And that’s true, actually, the medical device business is really growing that much, either. I guess, from a regulatory standpoint, it kind of makes sense to keep those two together, which is what the company’s doing. But I would even argue, Johnson and Johnson should consider splitting into three companies. So it should have personal care products as one, medical devices as one and then drug products probably be its own company. I think that would be the best way to unlock shareholder value, but not currently, what they’re doing.
Dan Kline 24:21 We’ve seen a lot of these split up deals get undone. ViacomCBS comes to mind where like, you split it off, and then you realize, Wait, there was some benefit in owning these things. Is this a case Maxx where the personal care business maybe just becomes a steady business, maybe that pays a dividend and you find some other way to sort of, you know, make it valuable because I agree they’re not all of a sudden going to come out with like a fabulous new, even less tears shampoo, like there’s just only so much growth possible in this space.
Maxx Chatsko 24:51 Yeah, that’s true. And another reason actually, I didn’t see any articles so far mentioned this, but Johnson and Johnson was fine and actually at the pay $2.1 billion. They’re they’re appealing that and fighting that. But over their talc powders, like their baby powders, including asbestos for many, many years. So, in a way separating that business kind of silos off that legal and regulatory risk. No one’s really mentioning that. So it’s a low risk personal care brand, but it also has a two plus billion dollar legal liability coming due in the next couple years. So probably is forcing Johnson Johnson’s hands or is at least factored into the calculus, I’m pretty sure.
Dan Kline 25:31 How does that happen? How are you sitting around making baby powder? And you’re like, you know, would go great in this poison? Let’s add a little poison. Babies are notorious for never putting their feet in their mouth or putting hands and like, like, this just seems to be like they should pay $2 billion, because how could that possibly happen?
Maxx Chatsko 25:49 Yeah, I would agree they should definitely pay that it maybe should be more right. But we’re not deciding that we’re not the jury. It has to do with mining and processing facilities. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. And I just missed naturally kind of close to where talc deposits are. So they are just for whatever reason weren’t keeping a good eye on that or I think they knew it was in their products. They just kind of didn’t mention it. And now the bill comes due.
Dan Kline 26:15 Maxx it has been a whirlwind of a Friday the week is nearly over. We are going to head out. Is it a darts weekend is it is a disc golf weekend, what is uh, what is happening in the Chatsko household.
Maxx Chatsko 26:27 It’s a writing and preparation weekend. We’re stuck in earnings season. I’ve had a lot of crazy updates. I have 11 of my 15 recommendations report this week, still working through all that data readouts, all kinds of things. Not a whole lot of earnings technically right for early stage drug developers but I’ll be knee deep and those things I haven’t played darts in forever. I think I’m terrible now. No, I should just quit and forever retire from darts. Disc Golf if I can, I will try to get out there.
Dan Kline 26:54 Or just get really good at organizing darts. I think I’ve mentioned this my grandmother my deceased grandmother is in the candlepin bowling Hall of Fame and she was not a particularly good candlepin bowler but she organized leagues for like 70 years. So if you start now and live to be over 100 you can catch up to my grandmother we are getting into the punch drunk portion of the program.
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