Drug marketing firm reaches new highs

  • Corporate News
  • Saturday, 12 Sep 2020

Strong growth: A man wearing a face mask walks past an electronic stock board showing Japan’s Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo. M3 Inc, Japan’s top-performing blue-chip stock, is up 88% this year after rallying 124% in 2019. — AP

TOKYO: Japan’s top-performing blue-chip stock this year, M3 Inc, is poised to climb further in the long run thanks to rising demand for online healthcare services, investors say.

The company’s shares are up 88% in 2020 after rallying 124% last year, helped by its addition to the Nikkei 225 stock average on Oct 1. The stock has surged more than 6,500% since listing in September 2004, at least eight times more than all others currently listed on the blue-chip gauge over that period.

M3’s drug-marketing platform saw orders jump 2.5 times year-on-year in the April-June quarter, as social-distancing rules enforced to contain the spread of the coronavirus severely hobbled physical drug-sales activities.

Further, increased regulations in Japan regarding the entertaining of doctors by medical representatives have also acted as a tailwind for the firm, originally a spinoff from Sony Corp, which still owns about a third.

While the massive gains have M3’s stock trading at 113 times its estimated earnings for next fiscal year, Richard Kaye of Comgest Asset Management Japan Ltd says its appraisal shouldn’t be based on short-term valuations.

“We think M3 can outgrow any analyst estimates which we see, and its valuation should reflect that long-term potential, ” said Kaye, Japan equity analyst and portfolio manager at Comgest, which owns about 2.9 million M3 shares, according to Bloomberg data.

“The company has demonstrated its ability to grow earnings rapidly and consistently and we should value it on future earnings, ” he said.

Ryotaro Hayashi, an analyst at Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities Co, recently raised his price target 30% to a street-high 7,500 yen, saying the positive story for the stock “remains alive and well”. It closed at 6,220 yen on Thursday.

“Changes wrought by Covid-19 in the pharma and medtech industries are ongoing, and if anything, accelerating, ” which provide tailwinds for M3’s online drug-marketing platform as well as its new consumer telemedicine tie-up with Line Inc, ” the analyst wrote.

A number of smaller players with related businesses have also seen big stock gains this year amid the virus crisis, with Carenet Inc more than tripling and Medpeer Inc gaining 134%. Smaller firms may be able to build niche markets but it will be hard to compete with the scale of M3’s network, according to Julia Angeles, a fund manager at Baillie Gifford & Co, which holds an 8.85% stake in M3 on behalf of its clients.

M3 represents a “disruptive approach to marketing, ” said Angeles, who helps manage US$57bil for Baillie Gifford. The company’s strength is its subscription base encompassing 80% of Japan’s doctors, and it is leveraging that network to drive additional revenue streams, such as patient recruitment for clinical trials, she added.

While health stocks count among the world’s best performers this year because of the pandemic, the emergence of widely available and affordable treatments or vaccines could take the steam out of their rally. Baillie Gifford however has a longer-term perspective.

“I don’t think there is a bubble in healthcare, ” said Angeles, who is lead manager of the firm’s Worldwide Health Innovation Fund. She sees the sector as “so much behind other industries” in adopting new tools that interest should remain strong even after the virus abates. — Bloomberg

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