Eli Lilly (LLY) is a blue chip stock that has paid a consistent dividend since the early 1970s.
The company’s total dividends paid have increased from 4.55 cents per share in 1972 to a projected $2.04 per share in fiscal year 2016.
However, the company’s dividend growth rate has materially slowed, and the dividend payout ratio is now over 80%.
Should investors be concerned that Eli Lilly could be poised for years of flat dividends or possibly even a cut to the dividend?
Let’s take a look at the business.
Eli Lilly is a global pharmaceutical company with an operating history that dates back to the late 1800s. In 2015, they generated sales of nearly $20 billion, which is down from the recent peak of $24.3 billion in 2011.
In general, the pharmaceutical industry can be a pretty good space to invest in for dividend investors seeking a stable dividend income over time.
Dividend investors do not have to worry about economic cycles or cyclical end markets leading to an unanticipated dividend cut when investing in this recession-resistant industry.
Besides analyzing all the usual important financial ratios, dividend investors instead need to pay attention to the quality of the product portfolio and pipeline of new products along with any significant legal issues the company could have outstanding.
Eli Lilly operates the business through two business segments – human pharmaceutical products (84% of sales) and animal health products (16%).
The Human Pharmaceutical Products business produces therapeutics targeting areas including endocrine, neuroscience, oncology, and cardiovascular. Their key drugs targeting these markets are Humalog (diabetes), Alimta (cancer), Forteo (osteoporosis), Cialis (cardiovascular), and Cymbalta (depression). They have 6 different billion-dollar revenue drugs, and their top ten drugs add up to nearly 70% of sales.
The Animal Health Products business produces drugs for companion animals as well as farm animals. In January 2015, they completed the acquisition of Novartis Animal Health for $5.3 billion dollars to improve their competitive position within the market, particularly within companion animal and swine markets.
Like many other large pharmaceutical companies, Eli Lilly recently transitioned through a difficult time with a patent expiration in many key drugs. They lost patent protection on Zyprexa (2010 revenue of $5 billion), Cymbalta (2012 revenue of $5 billion), and Humalog (2012 revenue $2.4 billion).
However, they are not completely out of the woods yet. Over the next few years they face patent expiration in key markets for large products including Alimta (13% of sales), Cialis (11%), Forteo (7%), Cymbalta (4%), Zyprexa (4%), Strattera (3%), and Effient (2%).
Thankfully, Eli Lilly invests around 20% of sales in research and development, above peers who average in the mid-teens (see our analysis on Johnson & Johnson).
These investments have resulted in a rather robust pipeline of new products in their late stage pipeline and even a few recent introductions to the market.
The major therapeutics investors need to keep an eye on are Jardiance (Type 2 diabetes), Baricitinib (Rheumatoid arthritis), Taltz (Psoriasis), and Solanezumab (Alzheimer’s).
The revenue potential from these products is expected to be quite significant. Jardiance has already been launched and is expected to be a multibillion-dollar product. While Baricitinib and Taltz aren’t expected to have the same sales potential as Jardiance, they are both expected to be billion-dollar plus selling drugs.
The real question mark in Eli Lilly’s late stage pipeline is Solanezumab, which is used to treat Alzheimer’s.
The benefits to patients and sales potential from this therapeutic could be substantial, but to date no pharmaceutical company has been approved for a treatment that has proven to slow Alzheimer’s effects. In other words, Solanezumab remains a long shot.
When the entire pipeline and recent launches are considered, Eli Lilly is positioned to have the potential to launch 20 new products in 10 years (2014 through 2023). This gives the management team confidence in their projections for at least 5% annual revenue growth through the rest of the decade despite key drugs coming off patent protection.
Furthermore, shareholders should benefit from improved margins at the company. The management team has committed to an OPEX-to-revenue ratio of 50% or less in 2018. This would represent an improvement from a GAAP OPEX-to-revenue ratio of nearly 58% in 2015.
Clearly if management is able to execute on this margin improvement from increased efficiency in R&D and marketing, selling, and administrative costs, it would be a great achievement and would allow for significant dividend increases.
Dividend Safety Analysis: Eli Lilly
We analyze 25+ years of dividend data and 10+ years of fundamental data to understand the safety and growth prospects of a dividend. Eli Lilly’s dividend and fundamental data charts can all be seen by clicking here.
Our Dividend Safety Score answers the question, “Is the current dividend payment safe?” We look at factors such as current and historical EPS and FCF payout ratios, debt levels, free cash flow generation, industry cyclicality, ROIC trends, and more. A score of 50 is average, 75 or higher is considered excellent, and 25 or lower is considered weak.
Investors can learn more about our Dividend Safety Scores and view their track record here.
Eli Lilly’s Dividend Safety Score is 59, which indicates that the dividend is somewhat safer than the average stock in the market and unlikely to be cut.
If Eli Lilly is able to execute on their strategy and the recent drug launches meet expectations, the company’s dividend safety will continue to rise.
The company expects 2016 non-GAAP EPS of $3.50-$3.60 with the major difference between GAAP and non-GAAP being amortization of intangible assets from recent acquisitions. As dividend investors, we feel comfortable with this adjustment as this is a non-cash charge.
If the company maintains the $0.51 per share quarterly dividend for the fourth quarter of 2016 like we expect, then the company’s payout ratio would be around 57% for 2016.
This is much healthier than the 88% payout ratio the company reported in 2014 and 2015 and puts the company closer to its historical payout ratio in the 45-65% range over the past decade.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the other important drivers of the Dividend Safety Score.
As of the end of the second quarter 2016, Eli Lilly had $9.3 billion dollars of debt of which $646 million is due within a year. This debt is offset by cash of $3.2 billion dollars, making total net debt $6.1 billion.
This is a very comfortable amount of debt for the company as illustrated by a net debt to EBIT ratio of just 1.6x.
Furthermore, the company’s EBIT/Interest expense ratio is very healthy at over 20x. Dividend investors can feel comfortable that the company isn’t over leveraged. Eli Lilly also maintains healthy investment grade credit ratings with the major agencies.
The company has also been a consistent free cash flow generator over time, which is what we would expect from this recession-proof business.
The main reason for the decrease in free cash flow in 2015 was due to non-core business reasons (change in deferred income taxes and payments for interest rate swaps) rather than a deterioration in the business.
Thus, dividend investors should not worry about the greater than 100% free cash flow payout ratio in 2015.
Dividend Growth Analysis
Our Growth Score answers the question, “How fast is the dividend likely to grow?” It considers many of the same fundamental factors as the Safety Score but places more weight on growth-centric metrics like sales and earnings growth and payout ratios. Scores of 50 are average, 75 or higher is very good, and 25 or lower is considered weak.
Eli Lilly’s Divided Growth Score is only 29, which indicates that the company’s dividend growth potential is below average.
However, Eli Lilly’s management has announced that they plan to return to annual dividend increases for shareholders after keeping the dividend relatively constant since 2009 at $1.96 per share.
The company did a slight dividend increase in 2015 and is on track to do the same in 2016, but these were not major payout raises (roughly 2%). As seen below, dividend growth has steadily decelerated over the last 20 years.
Management’s confidence for publicly committing to annual dividend increases comes from their conviction in the pipeline and recently launched products.
Chairman, President & CEO John Lechleiter said it best himself of the Q2 2016 earnings call:
“Finally with the strength of our current business and pipeline, we plan to return to annual dividend increases to our shareholders beginning in December of this year, and to return excess cash via share repurchases.”
In terms of the magnitude of the expected dividend increases, the company is in the same boat as investors – they really aren’t sure. Here is John Lechleiter with some more commentary from the second quarter 2016 call:
“…So with those caveats, I think that we feel very comfortable providing that as a framework for investors thinking about Lilly in the next five years with all these potential scenarios, a number of which could provide upside above this number and then coupled with the guidance we’ve given about not only our operating, or OpEx to sales, but this morning reaffirming our belief that we could also improve our gross margin as a percentage of sales over this period as well.”
While we don’t expect Eli Lilly to increase their yearly dividend payments in the double digits, we feel comfortable forecasting low- to mid-single digit dividend increases as long as the new product launches are successful and the pipeline meets exceptions.
Eli Lilly currently trades at nearly 22x 2016 earnings estimates and offers a dividend yield of 2.6%.
Assuming that management can execute on their strategy, sales should grow in the mid-single digits with additional growth in free cash flow coming from margin expansion. This should lead to earnings growth in the high-single to low-double digits over the next five years.
While this certainly appears bullish for the stock, investors are paying a premium for those future earnings today.
Thus, we would expect the P/E multiple to come down overtime so expected annual returns from investing in Eli Lilly are probably closer to 7% than to the higher expected earnings growth rate.
Eli Lilly is emerging from a very difficult time period due to large patent expirations over the last five years.
Furthermore, the company is not completely out of the woods yet due to some major drugs losing patent exclusivity over the next two years. It is a testament to the business model and management team that the company didn’t have to cut their dividend during this difficult stretch.
Conversely, if new therapeutic introductions meet expectations, the promising pipeline proves itself out, and management executes on margin expansion plans, then investors look poised to reap years of predictable dividend increases.
At a current valuation of nearly 22x this year’s expected earnings, investors seem to be giving the company credit for their pipeline and new product introductions.
While we are not opposed to investing in pharmaceutical companies, we would prefer to invest in a company that has its expected growth coming from products that are more proven.
This is especially the case when we are paying a valuation premium and only generating a 2.6% dividend yield, which isn’t really enough dividend income for retirement living.
Thus, for now we are keeping our capital invested in the current companies in our Conservative Retirees Dividend Portfolio instead.
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