Sorrento Therapeutics Fails the Test as a Covid-19 Value Play

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The novel coronavirus has drawn folks looking to strike gold by investing in companies with better tests and — the mother lode — an effective, safe vaccine. Some of these investors are tempted by biotechs making moves. And with Sorrento Therapeutics’ (NASDAQ:SRNE) pipeline, plenty of those investors are looking at SRNE stock.

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Tempted though these seekers may be, this stock is one risky move.

Yes, Sorrento has a timely story. If you are an investor interested in Covid-19 stocks, you will be well served by learning about SRNE stock. But the moral of this story is, an opportune investment may not be as it seems.

The Prologue

Sorrento Therapeutics is a California-based biotech company that has been around some 40 years. In four decades, however, the company has been busy licensing work done by others or acquiring other companies.

SRNE stock is very volatile — with a sustained downward trend.

The company’s 52-week high is $19.39, a figure that current shareholders can only dream about. Right now, it’s trading around $9.50. And a couple of analysts recently set a target in the $20 range for SRNE stock.

That’s not too bad, you say? Well, maybe … until you look back a little farther. A decade ago, in May 2010, the company’s stock was trading around $75 per share.

The Current Chapter

A major focus of the company now is to develop a Covid-19 saliva test.

The appeal of a saliva test is obvious. It should be much easier to conduct than a blood test or swabbing sample of nasal fluid from way, way up there in a person’s nose. By now, we’ve all seen those TV news reports showing people reacting to these tests.

A company that brings a successful Covid-19 saliva test stands to score. Investors in that company might even find some of that gold they seek.

But Sorrento isn’t the only one out there working on a saliva test. Moreover, non-profit academic researchers are way ahead — and these guys aren’t out to get rich off their work, either.

The odds are against Sorrento finishing this project in time to profit.

Cash and SRNE Stock

Mark Hake, a colleague at InvestorPlace, points out in a recent column that Sorrento is burning through cash.

The company “has consistently burnt capital in the past five quarters since going public,” Hake writes.

“As of June 30, the company had just $24 million in cash, yet had burnt through over $76 million in cash flow in the first half of 2020,” he adds. “That includes negative $37.5 million in cash flow from operations in the latest quarter.”

Indeed, the numbers don’t look good for Sorrento. A company’s viability is fundamentally linked to making a profit some way, somehow.

Turmoil in the Executive Suite

There’s a ton of pressure on companies involved in coronavirus-related endeavors, and Sorrento Therapeutics in no exception.

The company abruptly fired its chief financial officer, Jiong Shao, last month. Perhaps not coincidentally, SRNE stock’s decline accelerated.

Leadership is a serious issue in public companies. That is the last place investors want to see turmoil and controversy. Companies that are run well and prosper usually enjoy stability at the top, with a deep bench and plans for smooth transitions when a change is required.

When it comes to Sorrento’s executive leadership, even with the quick replacement, there’s not a lot to reassure investors in the wake of Shao’s departure.

The Bottom Line on Sorrento Therapeutics

Sorrento Therapeutics appears to be a troubled company with a sliver of potential.

Like several companies vying to win a piece of the Covid-19 action, Sorrento’s project is behind others. And, unfortunately for this company, it is competing against Yale University in the quest to develop a Covid-19 saliva test. And Yale is way ahead.

Meanwhile, Sorrento is burning through cash and the price of SRNE stock has been falling.

The stock’s current price, however, is getting looks from investors wanting to make a value play on a potential Covid-19 company. While I understand that desire, I am not convinced that this troubled company is right for that play.

On the date of publication, Larry Sullivan did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in any of the securities mentioned in this article.

Larry Sullivan is a veteran journalist in Florida who has covered banking and finance for several years. He is a former investing editor at U.S. News & World Report in Washington D.C.

The post Sorrento Therapeutics Fails the Test as a Covid-19 Value Play appeared first on InvestorPlace.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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