Confirmation bias – one of the psychological traps investors can be most prone to falling victim to. What happens to us as investors when we are influenced by this bias is we essentially discount all information that counters our established view point. If we are bullish on a particular stock, then confirmation bias will mean we will tend to overemphasize the importance of bullish news relative to bearish news. Confirmation bias is one the psychological mechanisms that can underpin the proverbial Permabull / Permabear.
Large cap Pharmaceuticals is a sector where I see good value. One of the reasons (besides excellent company specific fundamentals) is I believe the industry has been subject to the effects of Confirmation Bias.
Witness firsthand the effect of Confirmation Bias
Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY) is a company whose stock price was greatly affected by Confirmation Bias. In early 2011, there was a great deal of commentary about the ‘Patent Cliff’ that Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY) was facing. A number of patents were due to expire in 2012. The broad sentiment seemed to be that this would materially impact the performance of Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY) and that that would mean significant declines in the stock price.
This is classic Confirmation Bias, the popular commentary surrounding the stock was fixated on one single issue (albeit a concerning one). Because of this, the consensus seemed to be that Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY) was going to struggle going forward, and it should be priced accordingly.
On the surface, this appears to be quite a rational viewpoint. For a company that derives a good portion of its profit and earnings from patent-based products, expiring patents should be cause for concern. Except most investors missed one key thing – the rest of the market seemed to be thinking this very thing. One has to wonder if the collective market and commentary appears to be in agreement on the prospects of a stock, is it then reasonable to assume those prospects may well be fully (if not excessively) priced in?
As it turns out Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY) began steadily climbing in spite of the ‘Patent Cliff’. From a low of $35, it has climbed to over $55. This 55% plus rise has probably occurred at the bewilderment of many commentators because it has occurred as Patents have been expiring.
This strong performance provides a great lesson for us as investors. It illustrates that fundamentals are important, as is understanding the market sentiment pertaining to our selections.
I think that there are two more excellent buying opportunities in Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) and Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK) for similar reasons to the performance we have seen in Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY).
The unassuming giant
Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE), as I see, it has excellent metrics. With a forward price to earnings ratio (PE) of 12.3, debt to equity of 46%, interest cover of nearly 9 and free cash flow of $3 per share, Pfizer is a solid company that is producing an excellent amount of cash earnings.
Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) recently announced it first-quarter earnings which disappointed analysts. As a result, Pfizer has recently sold off about 6% from its recent peak of $31.15. Despite results that were not outstanding, Pfizer continues to impress me. The metrics and earnings power of this company seem a bargain at a forward PE of less than 13, especially when compared to the current PE of the S&P 500 of 18 times.
What impresses me about Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) is that it has a pipeline of new products that is both broad and deep. A great number of potential products are in various stages of trials. A key strength of Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) is it is not just relying on one specific trial. There are several high profile potential drugs that are being worked upon, but there is considerable breadth in the potential pool of new revenue sources. The success / failure of Pfizer does not hinge on any single drug. Of course, there are a select few that generate outsized profits, however, the suite of products it offers is what underpins Pfizer’s strength.