GSK drugmaker sets ambitious sales target before shake-up

GSK has cut its dividend and set ambitious sales targets as its under-pressure chief executive, Dame Emma Walmsley, pledged to lead Britain’s second-biggest drugmaker through a corporate shake-up next year.

GSK is spinning off its consumer healthcare business and aims to increase sales at the remaining pharmaceuticals and vaccines business, provisionally called “New GSK”, by 5% annually over the next five years, while profits are projected to grow by 10% a year.

It intends to raise sales at New GSK to £33bn by 2031, which is almost as much as the £34bn achieved by the whole group, including consumer health, last year.

Investors were braced for a steep dividend cut, from 80p a share this year, but will receive a better-than-expected 55p a share in total dividends next year from GSK and the new consumer business. The dividend for New GSK will start at 45p in 2023.

Money saved by the dividend cut will be invested in research and development to strengthen the firm’s pipeline of new drugs.

The targets and dividend change were set out in a four-hour live video presentation to investors and analysts on Wednesday against a backdrop of speculation over Walmsley’s future.

The New York hedge fund Elliott Management, which took a sizeable stake in GSK in April to push for change, has reportedly questioned whether Walmsley is the right person to lead New GSK.

Speaking on Wednesday before the meeting, Walmsley said:“Let me tell you what I am. I am a change agent, I am a business leader, and I am very excited about the new plans for a new GSK that we are laying out today. I have been leading and driving very hard a shift to a more performance-oriented company … My focus is resolutely on leading us through this transformation, through a successful separation and with momentum beyond that.”

GSK is demerging at least 80% of its stake in the consumer healthcare venture in mid-2022, with the rest to be sold off when market conditions allow.

Walmsley said this was set up to be “very, very shareholder-friendly”. Existing GSK shareholders would receive shares in the new consumer company, with brands such as Panadol, Sensodyne and Voltaren, which will be listed in London and New York. Some analysts had advocated an initial public listing to raise money.

Walmsley highlighted the achievements made since she inherited a threadbare drug pipeline four years ago, including a 30%-plus boost in R&D spending, producing a suite of 20 vaccines and 42 medicines.

“I’m very aware that GSK shares have underperformed for a long period,” she said. “The transformation achieved over the last four years creates a completely different platform for growth and significant shareholder value.”

She told investors: “This is a company that has perennially disappointed,” adding that GSK was set up for “a step change in performance versus our history and a commitment to competitive growth”.

The GSK share price ended the day up 1% at £14.09.

Mike Fox, a senior fund manager at Royal London Asset Management, a GSK shareholder, said: “This updated strategy moves the needle at GlaxoSmithKline, from a focus on restructuring to a story driven by growth. The targets show that management are prepared to be accountable for this growth, driving an improved shareholder experience, and we look forward to working with them to deliver it.”

The company is aiming for high-single-digit percentage growth in vaccines and double-digit growth for specialist medicines over the next five years.

Peter Welford, an analyst at Jefferies, said the group needed “to build belief in the pipeline”. The firm focuses on cancer, immunology, respiratory drugs and infectious diseases, as well as vaccines.

GSK has also developed a long-acting, injectable HIV drug, the main ingredient of which can also be used to prevent HIV infection. Known for its shingles, cervical cancer and flu vaccines, it is also developing vaccines for meningitis and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), a common virus that can lead to hospital admission for older adults. It estimates that the RSV vaccine market for older adults is worth £5bn a year.

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