Valeant Pharmaceuticals Intl Inc.: Turnaround Candidate or Racing to the Bottom?

Valeant Pharmaceuticals Intl Inc. (TSX:VRX)(NYSE:VRX) continues to get attention in the market more than a year after the epic collapse of what was Canada’s largest stock by market share.

Valeant initially attracted the attention of analysts and investors alike because of the lucrative business model that allowed the company to grow quickly. Valeant took out cheap loans, acquired drug companies, and integrated those drugs into its own ever-growing distribution network (while increasing the prices of those drugs).

Valeant’s rise came to screeching halt as cheap loans dried up (but repayments didn’t), and controversy over drug price increases came to light. What followed was an epic collapse of the stock by over 85%.

The aftermath of the stock price collapse saw Valeant left with a staggering US$30 billion in debt and an expansive, failing business model. The company had to answer questions about drug prices, and the problems continued to mount for Valeant as delays in filing financial reports as well as internal audit findings took their toll.

Drug price controversy

One of the major sources of concern around Valeant was the dramatic increase in prices the company imposed on drugs that were added to Valeant’s distribution network through acquisitions.

Nitropress and Isuprel are two such drugs. They were acquired by Valeant through the Marathon Pharmaceuticals deal back in 2015. The price of both of these cardiovascular drugs’ prices increased significantly with Nitropress up by 525% and Isuprel up by 212%.

Last month, Valeant offered some relief to this issue, stating that hospitals could seek rebates of between 10% and 40% of the price of the drugs because Valeant contacted 13 of the 14 national purchasing organization groups. Whether or not this is substantiated remains to be seen, however.

Bloomberg recently noted that a number of hospitals have yet to see these discounts, and Valeant’s agreement with Walgreens Boots Alliance as part of a new distribution agreement continues to have growing pains.

Is Valeant’s mountain of debt still growing?

The other concern that investors (and the company itself) have is the staggering amount of debt the company owes. To put the amount into perspective, the US$30 billion that Valeant owes is more than the entire external debt of the Latin American countries of Guatemala and El Salvador combined. Ouch.

Valeant has said reducing this debt is a priority and it has earmarked an US$8 billion reduction to come from selling non-core assets. While Valeant does own an impressive portfolio of brands, selling US$8 billion worth of assets would likely severely damage the company’s revenue stream in the future, making it even more difficult to emerge from the current predicament.

Even worse is the prospect of Valeant needing to secure additional loans to keep operations going. After all, revenues are down, and Valeant did spark a notice of default earlier in the year. Valeant could buy (literally) some time to keep the lights through an additional loan to carry out the next year or two, but the fact remains that the company is heavily indebted and needs to do everything and anything to lighten that load.

In my opinion, Valeant remains a very risky investment that offers very little in the way of growth at the moment. Valeant’s new management is doing everything that needs to be done, but the question remains whether this will be enough or not.

Existing investors that have already invested in Valeant may wish to hold their positions and see how the company progresses over the next few quarters, but for potential new investors, there are far better options on the market.

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Fool contributor Demetris Afxentiou has no position in any stocks mentioned. Tom Gardner owns shares of Valeant Pharmaceuticals. The Motley Fool owns shares of Valeant Pharmaceuticals.

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