Friday, November 23, 2012

Dendreon on the Ropes

Back on April 29, 2010, Dendreon announced that Provenge had been approved by the FDA. That day DNDN opened at $40.09 and closed at $54.58. On March 6, 2009, it had opened at $2.77 per share. Today DNDN closed at $4.45. Was FDA approval really that meaningless?

Recent Q3 sales results for Provenge were down sequentially from Q2, which is not reassuring, although not as bad as some of the anti-Dendreon crowd had predicted.

Dendreon still has a couple of shots at getting off the ropes and becoming a valuable company, but a further drop in Provenge sales, or even stasis, could lead to bankruptcy. Investors have mostly erred on the side of safety, and abandoned hope. This means there is more upside than downside at today's price, but the downside risk is still considerable.

Provenge is an immunotherapy that is approved by the FDA for asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic metastatic castrate resistant (hormone refractory) prostate cancer. Like most cancer therapies it is not a cure, but has demonstrated statistically significant benefits in survival times for patients. Unlike many cancer therapies, it has relatively minimal side effects.

Dendreon's past management made a number of strategic mistakes, but that is only knowable in retrospect. When Provenge should have first been approved by the FDA (in my opinion), competing new drugs were a couple of years from potential approval. By the time Provenge was finally approved, competitors were on the verge of approval. Management's primary concern was building out the facilities needed to produce Provenge (treating patients white blood cells to recognize cancer antigens) as rapidly as possible, which was a capital intensive prospect.

It isn't that management thought Provenge would sell itself; they also had a sales force prepared to sell Provenge. However (and Provenge is by no means the only therapy this has happened to in the last few years) there were doubts raised in the medical community about the value of Provenge. More importantly, doctors are used to handing out pills or hooking up patients to IV's, and Provenge instead required taking white blood cells out of patients, shipping them to processing facilities, and then shipping them back to the doctors for re-infusion into patients. Provenge built three facilities in different areas of America so that the logistics would work out.

Provenge revenue was first reported for Q2 2010, $2.8 million for a partial quarter. Revenue then jumped in Q3 2010 to $20.1 million. After that there was a ramp that was slower than original guidance by Dendreon management, which finally peaked at $82.0 million in Q1 of 2012.

Q2 2012 revenue declined to $80.0 million, and Q3 revenue was $78.0 million. Management claims there is still considerable unmet demand for Provenge and revenue can be ramped to at least $100 million per quarter. To reduce costs employees have been laid off and one of the three manufacturing facilities has been closed. Management believe $100 million per quarter is cash flow break even.

Since debt ($554 million) exceed cash ($445 million), a few more quarters of revenue under $100 million could cause Dendreon to seek bankruptcy protection, wiping out shareholder value. The debt is in the form of convertible notes due in 2014 and 2016.

However, there are several positives going for Dendreon, which could increase revenue in both the short and the long run. Because it is an immunotherapy, there is an argument that Dendreon should be the first therapy tried once a patient arrives within its FDA label. Right now that does not yet appear to be the consensus within the set of physicians who are potential prescribers. Thus the future value of Dendreon stock currently highly dependent on the educational capabilities of the Provenge sales force and leading physicians who are advocates for the therapy.

There is potential expansion of the label, with clinical studies underway that could provide the factual basis for this. Even that is another double-edged sword. If studies fail to find statistically significant benefits for patients outside the current label, that might weaken physician interest for patients inside the label. If the studies are positive the expansion of the addressable patient base should easily take Dendreon past the $100 million per quarter line.

Finally, there is Europe. If you already own Dendreon stock, this is certainly worth waiting for. There should be an EMA decision around mid-2013. But it is not a sure bet. The EMA is not obliged to follow the FDA, although it typically does. The European health care system has shown more price-sensitivity than America, which could stall adoption or reduce margins. Finally, another capital-intense facility would need to be built. Maybe they can move the machines from the closed U.S. facility to Europe if approval is granted.

Dendreon is one of the most interesting stock stories in the past five years. It peaked at $55.43 on May 3, 2010, as brokers who worked with analysts had dismissed it a year earlier hyped it as the hot new stock. On March 6, 2009, it had opened at $2.77 per share. That was some ride. It was a great illustration of how auction pricing systems can get wildly out of touch with reality.

The way I look at it, there are three ways for Dendreon investors to win: if sales start ramping again in the U.S. within the current label; if the label is expanded in the U.S.; and if Provenge is approved in Europe. That is not bad odds, but the downside is potentially losing the entire investment. Market cap ended today at $687 million, which normally would assume profits can run something like $15 million per quarter in the foreseeable future. Since the future is not foreseeable, buying or selling DNDN at today's price comes down to how much risk investors are willing to take on.

Disclaimer: I am long Dendreon. I won't trade DNDN for 1 week following the publication of this article. I buy and sell Dendreon depending on my assessment of its statistically likely true value in comparison to its price.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Cantel Medical Acquisitions Fuel Earnings Growth

Cantel Medical (CMN) specializes in disinfection equipment for dental offices and medical centers. Its products range from face masks to complex endoscope sterilization machines. Today it closed at $26.31, up $0.40. Cantel's 52 week high was $28.97 on September 25th. Is Cantel's run up over? Should it be bought or held for its long-run potential?

Cantel has grown both organically and through acquisitions. Acquisitions are often not a plus for investors. In Cantel's case, however, the acquisitions have gone very well. The acquired companies were bought as reasonable prices. Cantel has been able to increase margins at the acquired companies, partly by using its existing sales forces to ramp sales. The process has left Cantel with some debt, but it is at low interest rates and there is a clear path to paying it off.

In fiscal Q4 ending July 31st Cantel Medical revenue was $98.7 million, up 2% sequentially from $97.2 million and up 15% from $86.0 million year-earlier. Net income was $9.6 million, up 17% sequentially from $8.2 million and up 104% from $4.7 million year-earlier. EPS (earnings per share) were $0.35, up 17% sequentially from $0.30 and up 94% from $0.18 year-earlier.

Last Friday a new acquisition was announced. It resembles earlier acquisitions: small enough to digest easily, complementing an existing business, and with a very fair price to earnings ratio. SPSmedical Supply Corporation does sterility assurance and monitoring, so it fits well with Cantel's Crosstex division. Cantel paid $32 million. EBITDA for the last year was $4.3 million, so it cost less than 8 time EBITDA. There will be some acquisition costs in the December quarter, including $3.5 million capital expense to buy the facility SPSmedical works out of. But in the March 2013 quarter it should add roughly $1 million to profits.

Cantel ended fiscal Q4 with $30 million in cash and $60 million in debt. After this transaction net debt should be around $65.5 million. Since cash flow from operations was $17.7 million in the quarter and should continue to rise in 2013, net debt should be approaching zero in 2014 unless more acquisitions are made or there is significant capital expense during 2013.

I have been watching Cantel Medical since early 2010. I was originally attracted to the infection control story, which I knew had become a serious problem in hospitals. Infection control spending has ramped considerably these last few years, but much remains to be done. Cantel has competitors in each of its areas of expertise, but it also tends to be a leader. It is a remarkably well run business with a frugal management that seems to be committed to working to build long-term value for shareholders.

Cantel is not exactly a cheap stock, with a P/E of 23.1 at today's price. The P/E has been justified by the quality of management and earnings, but there is no guarantee it will remain at the current level. Cantel pays a small dividend, with a yield well under 1%, which is fine for me as I am looking for long-term returns and feel cash should be used to pay off debt and to expand further.

Note that Cantel was affected by the recession, and its revenues are not immune to macroeconomic factors. It also has had some spikes in revenue during infectious disease scares, so it can be a bit lumpy from quarter to quarter and, to a lesser extent, year to year.

Cantel is suitable to conservative long-term investors at today's price.

Disclaimer: I own Cantel Medical. I will not make trades in CMN for one week following publication of this article.

Keep diversified!

I Buy Adept Technology (ADEP)

Just a brief note that I bought a small initial position in Adept Technologies, symbol ADEP. You can read my prior assessment at Adept Technology First Look.

This is a very long term investment for me. I have no reason to think Adept is going to go up in price in the near future. There will be an Adept Technology conference call on November 8, this Thursday. I will take notes on it and post them. See my Adept Technology Analyst Conferences page for a link.

I decided to go ahead with the ADEP purchase because I believe there is a future in robotics and that Adept is addressing a significant unmet need. Adept has grown both by acquisitions and by organic growth and appears to be well-managed. Needless to say, that does not guarantee success.

So keep diversified!