If you dared to flip the channel to CNBC any time during the past week, it would have been hard to stay calm. The market was whipsawing all over the place, up one minute, down the next. Fear of government defaults and the potential for another recession were topics of endless debate. Fund managers were said to be antsy to unload any security riskier than a T-bill or gold—which means biotech was fast becoming especially unfashionable.
All the fearful talk may have been good for TV ratings and Internet page views. The wave of selling is definitely worrisome for any company that dares to do something risky like create innovative new life science products, such as cancer drugs. But all this talk is hardly a sign of any long-term catastrophe.
The last time I can remember this much fear coursing through the markets was September 2008, when the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy triggered government bailouts to stave off a global run on the bank. Most comments I heard and read last week said what’s happening today isn’t as frightening as that scenario. There are undoubtedly major problems today, like the rising cost of healthcare and the long-term threat that poses to governments around the world. Healthcare investors with any vision at all have to be worried about what might be done to clamp down on costs (and future profit margins) of pharmaceutical, medical device, and diagnostics companies.
Setting aside all those concerns for a moment, I thought it would be instructive to check on how biotech investors reacted during that scary time of September 2008, compared with what we’ve seen the last two weeks. So I looked at the two-week period starting with the close on Sept. 12, 2008 (the last day of trading before the Lehman bankruptcy), and the two-week period starting with the close on Aug. 1, 2011 (the last full day before President Obama signed the bill to raise the debt ceiling, averting what could have been a U.S. government default).
Here’s what I found:
Indexes Sept 12-26, 2008 August 1-12, 2011
Nasdaq Biotech Index (NBI) -0.2% -8.6%
Amex Biotech Index (BTK) -0.6% -15.1%
Nasdaq Composite Index -3.5% -8.6%
Surprisingly, even though most analysts agree the global financial system isn’t in as much trouble now as it was in 2008, biotech indexes, and the broader Nasdaq Composite Index, are getting hit even harder now.
Sure, lots of things have changed … Next Page »
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