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4 Ways GlaxoSmithKline plc Will Continue To Lag The Biotechnology Sector

Right now I’m comparing some of the most popular companies in the FTSE 100 with their sector peers in an attempt to establish which one is the more attractive investment.

Today I’m looking at GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK) (NYSE: GSK.US).

Valuation

Firstly, let’s start with the basics, the company’s valuation.

GlaxoSmithKline trades at a historic P/E ratio of 13.9, which is below the biotechnology sector average of 17.1. That said, Glaxo’s 10-year average historic P/E is around 13, so based on that the company looks to me to be overvalued.

Nonetheless, Glaxo’s close peers, Shire (LSE: SHP) and AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN) (NYSE: AZN.US) trade at historic P/Es of 30 and 8 respectively. So all in all, it’s difficult to establish a correct value for the company.

Balance sheet

  Net-debt-to-assets Interest cover by operating profit
GlaxoSmithKline 34% 10x
AstraZeneca 5% 18x
Shire 5%

Unfortunately, compared to its closest peers it would appear that Glaxo has the highest net debt as a percentage of its assets. In addition, Glaxo’s net debt has expanded a compounded 40% since the beginning of 2008, from around £10 billion to £14.1 billion. In comparison, peer AstraZeneca has reduced net debt by 70% over the same period.

Nonetheless, at the end of 2012 Glaxo had £4.1 billion in cash on its balance sheet, just enough to cover all of its short-term debt falling due within the year. 

Company’s performance

  Earnings growth past five years Net profit margin
GlaxoSmithKline 8% 16%
AstraZeneca 26% 14%
Shire 317% 13%

Rising debt is commonly indicative of a company that is investing for growth, however, this does not seem to be the case for Glaxo. Indeed, Glaxo’s earnings growth during the past five years seriously lags its three closest peers, as shown above.

Furthermore, the company’s net profit margin has recently fallen from a high of 20%, which was seen back during 2011.

Dividends

  Current Dividend Yield Current dividend cover Projected annual dividend growth for next two years.
GlaxoSmithKline 4.7% 1.5 6%
AstraZeneca 5.5% 2.3 2%
Shire 0.4% 7.7 38%
Sector average 4.5% 1.3  

Once again, Glaxo lags its closest peer AstraZeneca when it comes to dividends paid out to shareholders.

Granted, Glaxo’s dividend growth is expected to outpace that of AstraZeneca during the next two years. However, AstraZeneca’s stronger dividend yield and the fact that the payout is covered nearly two-and-a-half times by earnings gives me more confidence in AstraZeneca’s payout. 

Foolish summary

All in all, Glaxo’s higher than average level of debt and slow earnings growth over the past five years are causes for concern. 

So overall, I feel that GlaxoSmithKline is a much weaker share than its peers. 

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Although I feel that GlaxoSmithKline will continue to lag the biotechnology sector, I am more positive on the five FTSE shares highlighted within this exclusive wealth report.

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In the meantime, please stay tuned for my next FTSE 100 verdict.

> Rupert does not own any share mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has recommended GlaxoSmithKline.