What a Difference a Fortnight Makes
Due to last Monday’s Presidents Day holiday the stock market was open for only four days last week instead of the usual five, but that’s all the time it needed to gain nearly 3% – one of its strongest showings in 2016. In fact, after hitting its closing low of 1829 on February 11th, the S&P 500 ran up to 1926 over the next six days in response to the Fed’s mind change on future interest rate hikes.
That still leaves the index more than 100 points below its value at the start of the year, but takes it out of official “correction” territory with a net decline of only 8% from its previous high achieved last May before China began devaluing its currency which raised concerns about a global recession. That scenario is still in play, but less likely now that the Fed has publicly acknowledged that threat and amended its future monetary policy accordingly.
If nothing else the current stock market rally should change the mood of many investors who were beginning to believe that a full-blown bear market was in the works. In the short run the stock market can be a self-fulfilling prophecy as investors’ expectations directly influences their behavior.
The good news is the index jumped another 1% this Monday morning refuting the notion that this rally was merely technical in nature, and not driven by genuine demand. There is still much work to be done before we can declare the stock market officially out of the woods, but it is clear that a new trend has been established, and along with it, a new mindset.
To that end, one of our Next Wave Portfolio holdings – Zendesk – surged on a solid quarterly earnings report last week. It wasn’t that long ago – actually, only a couple of weeks – that the market may not have punished a stock reporting good news, but probably wouldn’t have rewarded it, either.
Next Wave Portfolio Update—Zendesk
By Rob DeFrancesco
Shares of Zendesk (ZEN) got an 8% boost last week after the company reported better-than-expected results for the fourth quarter and offered upbeat top-line guidance for 2016.
In the December quarter, the provider of a cloud-based software platform used by customer service departments had revenue of $62.6 million (up 63% year over year), above the consensus estimate of $59.9 million and the guidance range of $59 million to $61 million. Deferred revenue of $85.6 million rose 65% year over year and 13% sequentially.
On the earnings conference call, Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane said the latest three-month period was the “best orchestrated quarter in a long time.” Improved sales force productivity—particularly on larger accounts—drove a large part of the outperformance. Compared to the year-ago quarter, the company closed three times more deals worth more than $50,000 each, with the total annualized value of the large transactions up 45%. The dollar-based net expansion rate came in at 123%, up from 120% a year ago. International revenue represented 44% of total revenue.
In the December quarter the company added more than 5,000 new accounts. Zendesk now has more than 69,000 customers, a third higher than the year-ago level. It continues to gain traction with larger enterprise accounts, as 32% of monthly recurring revenue in the fourth quarter came from customers with more than 100 software seats, vs. 24% in the fourth quarter of 2014.
Some investors have been concerned about Zendesk’s exposure to so-called unicorns, which are the privately held companies (many of them in the tech sector) valued at more than $1 billion. Some of the top unicorns right now: Uber, Xiaomi, Airbnb, Snapchat, Pinterest, Dropbox, WeWork and Lyft.
With the recent sharp retreat in valuations for publicly traded tech companies, many privately held companies are seeing investors pull back on new funding commitments. That’s causing a number of unicorns to watch their expenses a lot more closely. While 40% of today’s unicorns are Zendesk customers, the group represents just 7% of the company’s total revenue. Plus, even if there were to be more deterioration in overall valuations, that doesn’t necessarily mean Zendesk would suffer because its solutions are important tools for its customers when it comes to maintaining strong relationships with their own customers.
For the first quarter, Zendesk sees revenue of $65 million to $67 million, above the consensus of $63.3 million. The 2016 revenue guidance range of $290 million to $300 million (representing growth of 40% to 45%) topped the consensus of $289.1 million. In 2015, Zendesk’s revenue advanced 64% to $208.8 million.
The company set a 2020 revenue target of $1 billion. Zendesk could reach that goal by delivering a four-year revenue compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 36% (starting in 2017). While the company over the next few years may do some selective M&A, the CEO said the vast majority of the expected growth would be organic.
At the recent market cap of $1.52 billion, Zendesk shares trade at 5.1 times the 2016 revenue guidance midpoint of $295 million. Taking into consideration cash & investments on the balance sheet totaling $267.9 million (there is no debt), the forward revenue multiple drops to 4.2, an attractive valuation relative to the expected top-line growth rate.
In the fourth quarter, some savvy institutional investors either opened a new Zendesk position or added to their holdings. Among the big buyers, Columbus Circle Investors initiated a position of 1 million shares, while Lord, Abbett increased its position by 89% to 2.06 million shares, purchasing 975,187 shares. Wellington Management and Waddell & Reed initiated positions of 974,214 shares and 566,900 shares, respectively.
Zendesk remains a ‘Buy’ in the Next Wave Portfolio.
Emerging Biotech Investment System (EBIS) Update – Investing Daily.com for February 22, 2016
By J. Duarte MD
In this issue:
- The Big Picture: Lots of Work Left to Do for this Market
- In Depth: The Case for Cerus Corp. Earnings due on February 26.
- Special Situation Trading Portfolio: Rollins Inc. (ROL) – A Stock for the Times
- Long Term Holding EBIS Portfolio Update: EBIS Stocks Prosper
- News and Analysis: Are Zika Stocks About to Jump?
- Shopping List
The Big Picture: Lots of Work Left to Do for this Market
Our Short Biotech ETF (BIS) ETF was finally stopped out last week at $46 after delivering a 53.33% return. We have added a re-entry point for the ETF at $48-$50 with a sell stop at $45 that is likely to be triggered should the market resume its down trend.
Last week was another roller coaster for stocks, although the S & P 500 (SPX) ended with its best weekly performance of the year. Still, given the global economy’s generally negative tone and the strangeness of central banks these days, you have to wonder if this rally can last. The Nasdaq Biotech Index (NBI) is lagging the overall market for the year by a wide margin compared to the S & P 500. NBI is well off the pace to the tune of being down 22% for the year compared to a 6.7% decline fo the S & P 500. That means that biotech remains in a bear market while the S & P 500 is still in what is considered a moderate pullback. To be sure, any individual investor may have fared better or worse than either benchmark. And by and large we’ve been able to manage our portfolios effectivily thus far, thanks especially to the performance of the BIS ETF which performs inverst to the NBI index. The point is that this is, by all reasonable measurements, a tough market.
A look at the charts of the S & P 500 and the Nasdaq Biotech index reveals a few other important points. One is that the S & P is forming another W bottom, similar to what it did in the August to October 2015 period after the Flash Crash of that time. The S & P, at that time, was able to muster a decent and very tradable rally that lasted until the last days of December. Biotech was not able to mount a similar rally. And it looks as if it’s not going to be able to do so this time either, given the very lame appearance of the NBI chart, which is lagging the S & P’s bounce in what we would call a meaningful way. This could change if there is a credible catalyst for biotech that develops. We have been waiting for a response to the Zika virus as a possible fire starter, but haven’t seen this happen yet. New information, however, has surfaced and we detail it below in our News and Analysis section.
Thus, given the technical picture, the S & P’s rally may not as hardy as many would have any of us think. In other words, if you think of the S & P as a reasonable representation of the stock market, and if you think of biotech as a major component of the market, which it is, the disconnect between the two sectors may be telling us that the rally in the “so called market,” is being fueled by a very small number of stocks. And history is quite full of instances in which these “narrow” advances are a prelude to a more meaningful down leg in the overall market. The bottom line is that we’d like to see this rally broaden out before we get more bullish.
Our recommendations continue to err on the side of caution.
- Pay close attention to the overall market, especially the price of oil and the geopolitical situation. Review our weekly recommendations, adjustments, and our new EBIS picks and portfolio updates.
- Monitor the price of all current positions in your biotech portfolio individually. Look at each stock separately and keep up with Sell Stops and any trading rule that we include in our recommendation.
- Pay attention to news items, especially as related to products, mergers, takeovers and geopolitical events. Stories about biotech stocks are likely to increase given the political situation in the world, the U.S. election and the rise in viral outbreaks due to globalization and geopolitically related migrations.
- Focus on risk management and on the fundamentals of any open position. Our July 27th, 2015 update has an excellent tutorial on how you may go about doing using this ETF to hedge your portfolio. For further reading on portfolio protection techniques and risk management also consider a copy of Dr. Duarte’s “Trading Options for Dummies.”
- Don’t get over confident and stick with what’s working. Risk is still high. But this could be an excellent opportunity to build an excellent portfolio for the long term. A good method for building positions is to buy small lots of stock over a few weeks to months, depending on the overall trend. When this is coupled with a long term time horizon it’s much easier to weather the volatility.
In Depth: EBIS (Emerging Biotech Investment System) Pick: Cerus Corp. (CERS)
Restated Buy Recommendation: Cerus Corp (CERS).
Cerus Corp. (CERS) – Buy Range $5-7. This stock was initially recommended 11/16/15. Bought 11/16/15 at $5 – 2/19/16 closing price $5.36.
We like Cerus Corp. as a long term portfolio holding. The company has the potential to become a key player in the area of blood supply testing. The FDA in a recent document recommends one of two methods for decreasing the chance of Zika virus spread by the blood supply. One is by pathogen reduction techniques, such as Zika’s Intercept system. The other is by obtaining blood products from geographic areas where the virus is not known to be locally transmitted.
Cerus Corp. (CERS) will report its earnings on or about February 26, 2016 and it will be interesting to see what the company says about its recent past. Estimates are for $9.72 million in revenues and a loss of $0.16 (16 cents per share) in net income. More important will be what the company says about its rapidly changing future, which looks potentially bright if current emerging trends remain in place. Comments on Zika virus and the company’s Intercept system for infectious agents deactivation of plasma and platelets will be interesting. Hopefully there will be some guidance on how the FDA approval process for Intercept’s use in red blood cells is going as well.
We first recommended Cerus in November 2015 as a niche play in blood testing. And as the market’s volatility tells us to be cautious, we thought it would be worth having a second look at this small company and provide a detailed update on why we still like it.
Cerus is a niche play on blood testing and the neutralization of infectious agents including hepatitis, HIV, the agent that causes syphilis and other infectious agents and may be a play on the Zika virus based on case reports and recent data from the company. Cerus has a proprietary technology, the Intercept system, which is used to test blood components, plasma and platelets, for parasites and viruses and to inactivate them. Cerus has been expanding its market share steadily in the last 6-12 months, having signed key agreements for the use of Intercept with key regional blood supply agencies in the south of the United States and elsewhere. It already has a presence in Europe, Africa, and South America, which may be its most important asset at the moment. Cerus, in our opinion, may be a focal company as the Zika virus dynamic plays out, due to its the potentially pivotal role in the prevention of blood supply contamination with resurging infectious agents. The company, on February 9, announced a multi-year deal with the American Red Cross for the use of the Intercept system for testing of plasma and platelets. The American Red Cross is the largest supplier of blood products in the United States.
It’s important to recognize that Cerus’s potential market is huge. It does not have FDA approval for Intercept to test red blood cells, yet. But it is in the process of attaining that approval. And if it does receive it, we would expect the shares to explode to the up side, regardless of market conditions as the global market for blood transfusions is huge, with over 100 million potential transfusions per year possible. Consider that there is now a huge influx of immigrants from the undeveloped world entering Europe but also increasingly the United States. This one dynamic, when coupled with normal travel patterns of Americans to global destinations where mosquito borne diseases are not rare, raises the potential for a resurgence of infectious diseases rarely seen in the U.S., and thus their entering the blood supply. Just recently the incidence of dengue fever, a mosquito transmitted virus that can lead to heart disease has increased in the U.S. where cases have been reported in Texas as well as Hawaii. The state of Hawaii has declared a state of emergency for mosquito borne diseases including dengue fever and the newly recognized and more emergent Zika virus even though their incidence is seen as declining.
We previously reported that analysts Dan Cohen and Scott Matusow make an interesting case for the Intercept system, noting an August presentation by the company regarding the Zika virus and the potential use of Intercept as a way to reduce the spread of the virus via the blood supply. The authors also noted that CERS has received approval in Brazil for such a use with Intercept. Both authors report ownership in shares of CERS.
CERS currently has FDA approval for testing plasma and platelets, but not red blood cells. Studies are under way for red blood cell application of the Intercept system. The bottom line is that it is plausible to consider that CERS shares could spike at any time within the next twelve months if its Intercept system proves to be useful in the treatment of Zika virus by early detection and eradication of the virus via testing and treating of the blood supply as well as the implications of further gains in the shares if the company receives approval for application of the Intercept system for red blood cells.
Dr. Duarte owns shares in CERS.
CERS gets a +7 EBIS rating, HOLD. It is, however, a very attractive and moderate risk company with excellent long term potential as its focus on blood supply testing seems to be extremely timely given the current geopolitical situation and the resurgence of infectious diseases.
Here are the EBIS details:
The EBIS Score for Cerus Corp (CERS) is + 7 (HOLD) based on September, 2015 data.
- Cash on hand: (+1) CERS had $58 million in cash on hand in September 2015 compared to $22 million in December 2014.
- Cash on Hand growth (year over year): (+1) The year over year cash growth was 32%.
- Revenues (present or not): (+1) Cerus reported $8 million in revenues in its September quarter compared to $9.5 million a year earlier.
- Revenue growth (10% or greater): (+0) Revenues fell by 16% year over year in the September 2015 quarter.
- Trailing Total Liabilities/Current Assets (<1=+1 , >1=0): (+1) CERS has a 0.30% ratio, which means that it can cover all its expenses with its cash and current assets in a worst case scenario and continue to operate the company.
- Earnings (Present or Not Present): (+0) CERS had a $16 million loss in its most recent quarter
- Net Income Growth (Year over Year): (+0) CERS cut its losses by 22% year over year in September.
- Products on the market: (+1) CERS has products on the market and is making strides in expanding its market share.
- Pipeline Strength: (+1) CERS has one key product in late development stages in its pipeline.
- Late Stage Clinical Trials and Product Launches: (+1) CERS has several important products in critical stages
The EBIS system consists of ten fundamental criteria that are updated every quarter after the earnings results for each company are published. Each criterion gets a value of +1 or zero. A total of 8 or more points earn a Buy rating. A total of 5-7 points earn a Hold rating. Less than 5 points delivers a Sell or Avoid rating. EBIS was introduced in the June 15, 2015 issue of the Biotech Report. The stocks in this portfolio are companies with long term profits. Our goal for this portfolio is to include stocks which we expect will be held for periods of at least twelve months, but likely longer.
Long Term Holding Portfolio Update
Meridian Biosciences (VIVO) Buy $18-21 – 2/19/16 closing price $20.01.Stock initially recommended on 6/29/15.
We still like Meridian Biosciences and suggest adding to shares on weakness. The company still has a 4.37% dividend yield and despite its decreased earnings, its results are comparable to its peer group. The longer term fundamentals are still positive given the increased likelihood of rising infectious diseases based on immigration and demographic patterns that are emerging in the U.S.
VIVO develops, manufactures, and markets diagnostic testing kits focused on gastrointestinal infections, virus detection, and parasitic illnesses. It also produces reagents and key testing and DNA amplification and enzyme related materials used in research. It has recently released a new product, the Para Pak single vial transport system for parasite testing which simplifies the transport of samples to the lab by using one vial instead of the more complicated multiple package systems that are currently on the market.
Meridian delivered $47.07 million in revenues and $8.47 million, or 20 cents per share in net income for its December 2015 quarter. This was a 10.58% decrease in earnings on flat revenues. And while this sounds disappointing, it’s actually a pretty good set of results. The company’s gross margins increased as did the amount of cash on its balance sheet, which are both excellent signs of management that is looking toward the future. Vivo also kept its quarterly dividend at 20 cents per share. Meridian delivered a mixed earnings report on November 5, 2015, beating on revenues at $47.5 million and missing on its net income by one cent at 20 cents per share. Estimates averaged $46.64 million in revenues and 0.21 cents per share for earnings. This was a reversal of the previous quarter. The stock paid a 20 cent dividend on 11/12/15 and yields 4.4%. Dr. Duarte owns shares in VIVO.
Novo Nordisk A/S (NVO) – Buy Range $50-55. Recommended 12/21/15. Bought at $55 on 12/21/15. 2/19/16 closing price $50.91. Sell Stop at $43.
Special Situations: Short Term Trading Recommendations
These are stocks that have the potential for trending profits over shorter periods of time, sometimes days, but mostly weeks to perhaps months. The fundamentals are secondary in this portfolio, which is geared for momentum type stocks.
Trading stocks are only recommended as trades based on technical analysis and momentum. These are not stocks meant for long term holding periods.
- Special Situation Trading stocks are not EBIS type stocks. This means that they are more volatile and that any moves by these stocks, up or down, can be very fast and treacherous.
- Follow the trading guidelines and recommendations issued with each stock in detail.
- Trading guidelines are not applicable to our longer term holdings in the EBIS portfolio.
New Special Situation Recommendation:
Rollins Inc. (ROL) – Buy at $27-29. Sell Stop at $25. Initially recommended on 2/22/16.
Rollins Inc. (ROL) is a very special situation with a relationship to biotechnology in the current environment. Rollins owns Orkin, the exterminating company, and could be a big beneficiary of the current health concerns regarding Zika virus. It also owns other businesses, including TruTech and Critter Control which focus on wild life control. The company also focuses on bed bug and other pest extermination. This is a highly speculative trading situation which may have a short term lifespan but may also be increasingly powerful given the current potential for the rise in incidence of parasitic and animal vector related diseases. Thus, in the current market it’s an interesting story stock to consider.
Rollins is not a cheap stock trading at 39 times past earnings. Its most recent quarter delivered modest growth in both earnings and revenues, in the 5-6% range, which although not too exciting, is likely sustainable given the nature of the business. The company continues with a steady expansion plan including the addition of several international franchises, focusing on areas with large pest populations. It continues to invest in technology, recently updating support and analysis systems and including communication and software tools to its employees in order to maximize their interaction with customers.
Active Trading Recommendations:
- Alert – ProShares Ultrashort Biotech ETF (BIS) Buy at $48-50. Sell stop at $45.
- Note: We opened and closed a position in BIS earlier this year for a net gain of 53%, so this is a new trading recommendation.
- Alert –Opko Health Inc. (OPK) Buy Range $8-$11. Bought 2/1/16 at $8. 2/19/16 closing price $8.81. Sell Stop raised to $7.
- Note: We think the market is wrong on this one as it has expanded its company through acquisitions that have delivered profits and operating capital and that buying it now could prove to be an excellent longer term play. We are also looking to add this company to our EBIS list in the not too distant future.
- Alert –Emergent BioSolutions (EBS) Buy Range $36-39. Bought 1/25/16 at $36. 2/19/16 closing price $37.69. Sell Stop raised to $34.
News Update and Analysis
Zika Virus: Are Zika Stocks About to Jump?
New information linking Zika virus to congenital malformations in Brazil was released this weekend and could provide investors with a reason to buy virus related stocks.
Last week we wrote about the Zika virus, noting and summarizing the general information from the usual mainstream sources. We have three stocks whose fortunes may be affected by developments in this story: Emergent BioSolutions (EBS – trading, short term portfolio) and Meridian Biosciences (VIVO) as well Cerus Corp. (CERS) in our EBIS portfolio. We have listed and updated the main points of the story we wrote last week below highlighted by bullets.
- Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. It originated in Africa and made its way to the Pacific in the early 2000s. But then something changed as the virus moved to South America where it is believed that as many as one million Brazilians could be infected.
- Recent data suggests that in Brazil it has caused severe defects in the brain of the unborn, leading to a higher incidence of microcephaly, a condition where the brain and the head remains small and thus the sufferer does not fully develop intellectually. There have now been reports that as many as 5000 pregnant women in Colombia may be infected, and there are projections for as many as 600,000 men and women as likely to be infected by June of 2016 in the country. There have been reports of cases in Puerto Rico as well.
- A recent study suggests that the virus could expand its reach further via the blood of travelers who have been bitten by virus carrying mosquitoes as they return to the U.S. from other parts of the world and that the virus could be brought into areas of the U.S. which hold as much as 60% of the population. Let us put that into proper perspective. This would mean that over 200 million people could be exposed to Zika virus in the U.S., according to a study of travel patterns and projections by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
We also noted that “the story is unfolding, which means that we don’t know what we don’t know at this point. What we have is some preliminary data based on studies from Brazil and French Polynesia which suggests that there is a link to central nervous system defects in newborns and Zika virus as well as case reports and rapidly emerging information in many formats from other areas of the world. Other conditions aside from microcephaly that may be related to the virus could include a viral paralysis syndrome and other nervous system abnormalities in newborns. “
Our conclusion was that “Zika virus is a real threat, although its full reach is yet unknown. This uncertainty is likely the reason why companies that are being linked to Zika are having some false starts. It is, however, worthwhile to keep Zika virus in mind as it could be the canary in the coal mine. This humble doctor’s opinion is that we may be in the early stages of a resurgence of infectious diseases as major contributors to the status of public health in the U.S., and the world. “
And while our conclusion, based on those facts is sound, we are also wondering why stocks that, based on sound fundamentals related to the known information about the virus aren’t jumping higher. This brings us to the evolution of this story based on additional information that is emerging.
There are some reports, which may not amount to anything more than rumors and conspiracy theories, floating around that the mosquito’s link to the virus and congenital deformities is just a story. These unsubstantiated and unconfirmed rumors are linking pesticide use as the cause of the congenital malformations and raise the possibility of a coverup of the truth. To be sure, according to a report in The Washington Post there have been cases of microcephaly that have been reported during this period that have not been linked to Zika virus and the incidence of the cases in Brazil may be overstated as the numbers may include normal children with smaller than normal head circumferences. Some of this data is being linked to two possibilities. One is the quality of the measuring instruments used to determine the size of the newborn’s heads. The other is that perhaps there is more microcephaly in Brazil than was previously known caused by other factors that may or may not be related to Zika virus.
However, over the weekend, reports that the genome of Zika virus has been deciphered by Brazilian public health officials and that the data links Zika to microcephaly surfaced. According to CNN: “The researchers at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro’s molecular virology lab analyzed the virus taken from the amniotic fluid of pregnant women, and the scientists also isolated the virus in the brains of fetuses with microcephaly who died in Paraiba state in northeastern Brazil right after birth, the agency said.”
We are not weighing in on the rumors, one way or another on whether they may be truth or fiction. But, it is plausible that investors with access to what they consider reliable information may be aware of these rumors, and perhaps of more than rumors, meaning reports such as The Washington Post’s as well as private information, which would account for the fairly muted response in some of the stocks who should benefit from Zika virus related influences. The story about the genome deciphering of Zika virus and the presence of the virus in the brains of microcephalic fetuses could be a game changer and may be the fact that jump start these stocks. We will be watching for whether this story becomes a significant factor or not. The facts continue to evolve and we will stay with this story.
- Regeneron (REGN)
- Bio-Rad Labs (BIO)
2016 EBIS Portfolio Results:
- Emergent BioSolutions (EBS) (Bought 5/11/15 MPP* 30.63) 1/7/16 Stopped out at $36. Return 17.63%.
- Cambrex Corp. (CBM) Position Closed – Sell Stop Triggered at $50 on 12/18/15. Bought 10/20/15 at $44. Return 13.6%.
- Masimo Corporation (MASI) –Buy issued July 20, 2015. MPP: $40.65). Sell Stop triggered at $38 1/6/16. Return (-) 6.5%
- Sirota Dental Systems (SIRO) Buy Range $104-$108. Bought 1/26/16 at $104. 2/5/16 closing price 106.57. Sell Stop hit at $98 on 2/12/18. Return (-) 5.76%.
- Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX) Trading Buy Range $96-100. Bought 2/4/16 at $96. 2/5/16 closing price $86.61. Sell stop hit at on 2/5/16 at $86. Return (-) 10.41%.
2015 EBIS Portfolio Results:
- DYAX Corp (DYAX) – Position Closed: Company taken over. Originally bought 10/7/15 at 22. 11/6/15 closing price was 34.52. Trade return: 56.9%.
- Celldex Therapeutics (CLDX) Trading Recommendation Position Closed: Stopped out at 16. Recommended 10/26/15. Buy range entered 10/26/15 at 13.22. Total Return 21%.
- Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (ALNY) – Trading Buy triggered at 85 on 10/9/15. Trading Recommendation Position Closed: Stopped out at 100 on 11/16/15. Total Return 15%.
- Edwards Life Sciences (EW) – (Initially recommended 10/19/15- Bought 10-27-15 at $76.50 post 2 for 1 split). Trading Position Closed: Sell Stop Triggered at $78. Return 1.96%.