Earnings season is upon us again. Of the stocks I watch most closely (in this case because I own some of each of them), Akamai (AKAM) has scheduled its analyst conference for October 26, and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is on October 27. Gilead Sciences (GILD), Celgene (CELG), and Biogen Idec (BIIB) should also report before month's end, but have not yet set dates.
While the information in analyst conferences comes from management, and so can be biased, it is still essential listening for serious investors. At the end sell-side analysts are allowed to ask questions (some micro-caps even let investors ask questions), and on occasion an answer to a question can give important insights into the company. I take notes while I listen and even post them on the web; listen to management for a couple of years and you may be able to tell a lot from the way they answer or evade questions. Going back a few years and checking on how management's predictions worked out can also be illuminating.
Akamai typically is a high P/E stock that has to justify that ratio by showing continuous growth. Many companies have tried to compete with Akamai at accelerated delivery of web content, yet over a decade later Akamai still has incredible market share and has branched out into adjacent businesses like cloud security. Pricing has been an issue lately. Look to see if Akamai's volume of business is growing fast enough to compensate for falling prices. Q3 is a slowish quarter for content delivery, with a big bump coming from e-commerce in Q4, so Q4 guidance is also a key indicator of the health of this business.
AMD already pre-announced, sending the stock price into free-fall. This was as I predicted in AMD at Earnings Crossroad, but worse. The good side of the news is demand for AMD's new server and APU chips is strong. What we want to know from management is how strong is the demand, and how quickly can they gear up chip production to meet the demand.
Biogen Idec (BIIB) guided to low to mid single digit revenue growth over 2011, which for Q3 would run to roughtly $1.2 billion. Tysabri sales over $280 million would be a positive indicator, but the key question is data or FDA approvals for late-pipeline drugs like BG-12 or Daclizumab for multiple sclerosis, which are likely to be announced on other occasions.
Gilead (GILD) is a cash cow that has a low P/E due to patents expiring on some of its anti-viral drugs over the next decade. If management would pay a dividend, the value of the franchise would be more obvious. They are doing a lot of research on new anti-viral compounds that could kick growth into high gear again if approved. Expect something over $2 billion in revenue, $940 million in cash flow from operations. The key issue would be timelines for Endurant and and the "Quad" regimen. Don't expect the stock to budge much in this market until they pay a dividend or announce positive Phase III data for a hepatitis C multi-drug therapy (they are only in Phase II, so it will be a while).
Celgene (CELG) is another cash cow, but with a rapid revenue and profit growth rate (and a higher P/E). Look for Revlimid revenues over $800 million, Vidaza over $165 million or Abraxane, their newest drug, revenues breaking though $100 million in the quarter. Celgene has a pipeline of potential drugs that is so extensive it would take several articles just to go over them. See Celgene drug pipeline for a list. Unless they mostly strike out, anyone who does not buy Celgene at today's price will wish they had in five years, but long-term investors are hard to find in this market.
Disclaimer: I am long in all of these stocks.