Citi’s Andrew Baum Moves Merck’s Price Target Up Modestly — To $65; While Credit Suisse Ups To $73

Before we discuss what I consider to be the most informed, but clearly diverging Wall Street views, I’ll offer a genuine hat tip, to my eagle eyed weekend anonymous commenters (while I was in the woods) — one of whom mentioned a BMS downgrade, and the other pointed out that BMS’s approach in Checkmate 026 may have lacked scientific rigor, and been driven primarily by hubris. I can concur with both. But I still think longer term, this doesn’t really shift much — in the space, as to Merck. Merck was always going to run diagnostics tests in lung, and it will still do so — now everyone else is likely to, as well. Net, net — a slightly smaller first line lung market, for all — Merck included, by later in 2017. And the market all are chasing is about a quarter of the size of the one that Checkmate 026 missed on, Friday. And so, to the meat of it, then:

Saying that he did not believe the Checkmate 026 trial indicated a longer term shift in market dynamics, and citing the likely entrance of AstraZeneca’s candidate early to mid-next year, Citi’s Andrew Baum has kept Merck’s stock at a “Neutral” rating, and only bumped the price target modestly — to $65.

While others have upped Merck’s target to $72 (BMO), and $73 (Credit Suisse), Piper Jaffray like Citi — has been come out far more conservatively — at $62 (but that may be a bit too jaundiced). Here are the dueling views, with one on the plus side — and here is the latest, from the more circumspect one, via Citi:

. . . .Citi Analyst Andrew Baum maintained a Neutral rating on Merck, with a price target of $65. He added that the new EPS estimates for 2017 and 2018, at $3.81 and $4.39, were now 5 percent higher than the pre-Friday consensus expectations.

Baum commented that Merck’s EPS gains would likely be “relatively short lived” due to the expected positive data from AstraZeneca Plc’s MYSTIC trial, scheduled for March 2017, and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s CHECKMATE 227 trial, expected in August 2017. On account of these, the latest development would have only a modest impact on Merck’s long-term EPS.

“The market share for immuno oncology sponsors in first line NSCLC was always likely to be determined by the relative benefits to be shown with PDx CTLA4 and PDx chemotherapy combinations in ongoing phase III trials. Nothing has changed in this regard. We continue to strongly favour PDx CTLA4 based combinations,” the analyst wrote. . . .

It is quite unusual, for a Fortune 25 company to be thought of so differently — in these widely diverging Wall Street analyses. Especially so, where the company is such an old line component of the DJIA — the views have been refined over seven decades of experience, minimum — in pharma. But here we are. Let’s see where Merck opens today. And, onward — on a perfect Monday morning — sore but smiling. . . . be well, one and all — if you are vacating, or even if not so.

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