The pitter-patter of little feet is growing quieter. Birth rates are in decline from China to France. Lockdowns, personal choice and financial constraints all play a part. Even the burgeoning fertility industry took a dip during the pandemic. These procedures do not lend themselves to social distancing. Fertility sales fell by more than a tenth at US-listed Cooper Companies last year.
Yet the bigger picture suggests demand for fertility help has not disappeared. Just shy of 2 per cent of babies born in the US are conceived using assisted reproductive technology such as IVF, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 330,000 such cycles were performed in 2019, the latest available data show, up 8 per cent year on year. They resulted in 84,000 babies.
There are several reasons to expect these figures to trend higher, ranging from delayed motherhood to falling sperm counts. Some countries, including the UK, help to foot the bill. Technology is also improving. In 2018, IVF patients aged between 40 and 42 had a higher chance of giving birth than those under 35 in 1991, according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.
This makes the industry fertile ground for the likes of Organon, freshly spun-off from pharma giant Merck and due to start trading next month. The group, which is originally Dutch and has been around the block a few times, reaped pro forma sales of $6.5bn and adjusted ebitda of $3bn last year.
Profits have fallen in each of the past two years. This is ripe terrain for generics. Assuming flat ebitda this year and applying the same multiple as Viatris, a pharma group with which it has some overlap, implies an enterprise value of $19.5bn. But a premium over that is likely.
Most players in the area have broader remits into women’s health and beyond. Cooper sells IUDs and Organon garnered a fifth of last year’s sales from contraceptives. Baby boom or bust, these are neatly hedged investments.
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