Despite a challenging year for the biotech sector, there are recent indications of a potential rebound. Since February 2021, biotech stocks have experienced a consistent decline following the bursting of the pandemic-era biotech bubble. The SPDR S&P Biotech ETF (ticker: XBI), a key indicator for the sector, has fallen nearly 60% since then, with a 15% decrease this year alone. In contrast, the S&P 500 has seen a growth of approximately 17%.
However, there is some positive news to report this month. The XBI has shown signs of recovery, experiencing an increase of 5.4% on Tuesday to reach a closing price of $70.91. In fact, since the start of November until the most recent market close, the XBI has slightly outperformed the S&P 500, with a climb of 8.8% compared to the S&P 500's 7.9%.
Importantly, this recent surge in biotech stocks is not due to a broader rally in the healthcare sector as a whole. While the Health Care Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLV), which encompasses the entire healthcare sector, has seen a 2.9% increase this month, the VanEck Pharmaceutical ETF (PPH), which focuses on U.S. and global drugmakers, has only risen by 2.4%.
According to Mizuho healthcare equity strategist Jared Holz, these gains are influenced by two main factors: a growing belief that interest rates will not rise any further and an ongoing rally in small-cap stocks. On Tuesday, the Russell 2000, which tracks small-cap stocks, saw a significant increase of 5.4%.
The recent consumer price index report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, revealing a slowdown in U.S. inflation, has further reinforced the consensus that the Federal Reserve will not raise interest rates in December. The current high interest rates have proven challenging for biotech and growth stocks as they increase funding costs for companies and reduce the present value of future earnings due to higher yields on investments such as Treasury debt.
Notably, Goldman Sachs analyst Asad Haider stated in a note from early October that the XBI has essentially become an inverse rates proxy, indicating the strong influence of interest rates on the performance of biotech stocks.
It remains to be seen whether this recent surge in biotech stocks will lead to sustained growth in the sector. However, amidst a challenging environment, investors and analysts are hopeful that the current positive momentum can be maintained.
Temporary Relief for XBI, but Challenges Persist
Despite a recent jump in the XBI (Biotech ETF), experts warn that the temporary reprieve from rate hikes will not provide a long-term solution. According to Goldman Sachs analysts, the path for interest rates in the coming month remains uncertain and challenging.
On Wednesday, Holz clarified that the XBI's recent surge is unrelated to the fundamentals of the biotech sector itself. In fact, several biotech companies have recently faced setbacks. Sarepta Therapeutics saw a 40% decrease in shares on October 31 after their gene therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy failed to show significant improvement compared to a placebo in a confirmatory trial. Likewise, Verve Therapeutics experienced a 41% drop on November 13 due to safety concerns surrounding their gene editing technology.
These events have dampened hopes for a broader biotech rebound. Despite a slight increase in early November, the XBI's losses for 2023 remain significant, further adding to the downward trend since early 2021.
Numerous constituents of the XBI have suffered significant declines in share prices. Coherus BioSciences, for instance, has experienced a staggering 77% decrease this year, while Vir Biotechnology, once seen as a pandemic-era darling, is down by 61% partly due to a failed influenza prophylaxis trial.
Despite these challenges, biotech stocks started on a positive note on Wednesday, with the XBI experiencing a 2% increase in morning trading.