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Bristol Myers Squibb Co. (BMY), Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY): This Pharma’s Dividend Is Safe for Now

Recently, with the loss of patents causing generic competition, the main attraction to pharmaceutical companies has been their dividend. While there has been little to no revenue growth, at least they’ve offered a hefty dividend to justify holding them. The patent cliff won’t last forever. At some point, growth will return, and investors can get paid to wait.

Bristol Myers Squibb Co. (BMY)

That is, as long as there’s enough cash flow to support the dividend. For Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY) the free cash flow, defined as cash from operations minus capital expense, decreased substantially last year.

Metric 2010 2011 2012
Free Cash Flow (in millions) $6,163 $6,563 $4,399
YOY Increase (Decrease) 73% 6% (33%)

Source: S&P Capital IQ. YOY=Year-Over-Year.

It’s not quite as bad as it looks, though. Part of the decrease in free cash flow can be attributed to an increase in capital expenses, which jumped from $672 million in 2011 to $905 million last year. But 2011 was a multi-year low. In fact, the last time Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY) had capital expenses that low was in 2000. I wouldn’t necessarily expect capital expenses to jump another 30% this year.

The rest of the drop in free cash flow was due to a 27% decrease in cash from operations. To calculate cash from operations, you start with net income and add back in depreciation and amortization expenses, other non-cash items, and changes in working capital.

Net income fell just 6%, matching a 7% decrease in revenue, but that’s a bit misleading. In 2012, Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY) received a $788 million payment from Bristol Myers Squibb Co. (NYSE:BMY) after AstraZeneca plc (ADR) (NYSE:AZN) and Bristol Myers Squibb Co. (NYSE:BMY) bought Eli Lilly’s former partner Amylin Pharmaceuticals. When the companies ended their relationship, Amylin got full control of Byetta and Bydureon, and Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY) got a royalty and milestones that Bristol Myers Squibb Co. (NYSE:BMY) paid off.

The one-time payment has to be subtracted out to calculate cash from operations since we want to know how the company is doing on a day-to-day basis. On that pro forma basis, net income fell about 24%. The rest of the change in cash from operations can be attributed to a change in inventories and accounts payable. Both tend to bounce around a lot, so there’s nothing to worry about unless we start to see a multi-year trend.

The decrease in income can be largely attributed to a 63% decrease in sales of Eli Lilly’s top drug, the antipsychotic Zyprexa, after the drug lost patent protection.

Cash is king
Despite the massive decrease in free cash flow, Eli Lilly was sitting on a large enough cushion that it didn’t have any problems paying its dividend last year.

Metric 2010 2011 2012
Dividends Paid (in millions) $2,165 $2,180 $2,187
Payout Ratio 35% 33% 50%

Source: S&P Capital IQ.