3 Things to Loathe About GlaxoSmithKline plc (ADR) (GSK)

LONDON -- There are things to love and loathe about most companies. Today, I'm going to tell you about three things to loathe about GlaxoSmithKline plc (ADR) (NYSE:GSK).

I'll also be asking whether these negative factors make this FTSE 100 pharmaceuticals giant a poor investment today.

GlaxoSmithKline plc (ADR) (NYSE:GSK)

Long-term returns GlaxoSmithKline plc (ADR) (NYSE:GSK)'s long-run total return for shareholders (capital appreciation and dividends over the past 10 years) has lagged behind that of the average FTSE 100 company. Furthermore, as the table below shows, GlaxoSmithKline plc (ADR) (NYSE:GSK) has been one of the poorer performers among its European big pharma peers.

Company Total return over 10 years (annualized)
Roche 9.4%
Novartis 8.6%
Sanofi 8.3%
GlaxoSmithKline 5.9%
AstraZeneca 5.3%

Margin pressures GlaxoSmithKline plc (ADR) (NYSE:GSK), like all the established big pharma companies, faces what it calls "intense competition" from generic products within all of its major markets. This is particularly true of the U.S., where GlaxoSmithKline plc (ADR) (NYSE:GSK) has its highest turnover and margins, both of which are now under pressure from generics.

The U.S. accounts for almost a third of group turnover, and in addition to the squeeze from generics, the country's health care reforms are also putting pressure on GlaxoSmithKline plc (ADR) (NYSE:GSK)'s margins.

Finally, the company's diversification into consumer health care has implications for group margins: the operating margin for pharmaceuticals and vaccines is running at over 36%, but the margin within the over-the-counter business is half that.

Concentration of risk Another issue for GSK in the U.S. is that the sale of most of its products are made to a small number of wholesalers. In fact, more than 80% of the group's U.S. pharmaceuticals and vaccines turnover comes from just three wholesalers.

Trade receivables due from these three (that's the money they owe GSK) amounted to 815 million pounds -- the equivalent of 17 pence a share -- at the latest reckoning. This concentration of credit risk could potentially, as GSK says, "materially and adversely affect the Group's financial results."

A poor investment? Many of the issues GSK faces are felt across the whole sector. Whether the sum of factors that constitute GSK's particular variation on the theme put the company in a better or worse position than its peers is a moot point.

Two of the world's top investors aren't prepared to argue it. Instead, they prefer to hedge their bets in a sector where the theoretical strength of the different companies' drugs pipelines isn't a reliable guide to which products will actually turn out to be the biggest winners.

Legendary U.S. investor Warren Buffett and renowned U.K. fund manager Neil Woodford both choose to invest across several big pharma companies.

The article 3 Things to Loathe About GlaxoSmithKline originally appeared on Fool.com.

G.A. Chester has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends GlaxoSmithKline.

Copyright © 1995 - 2013 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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