The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: McGraw-Hill, Moody's, Gilead Sciences, Abbott Labs and Bristol-Myers Squibb

CHICAGO, Nov. 19, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Zacks.com announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. (NYSE: MHP), Moody's Corp. (NYSE: MCO), Gilead Sciences (Nasdaq: GILD), Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT), Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY).

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Here are highlights from Friday's Analyst Blog:

A Balanced Solution to the Cliff?

The primary concern for investors remains the 'fiscal cliff'. Under the worst case scenario of gridlock in Washington, D.C., some $600 billion in tax hikes and expenditure cuts will go into effect in early 2013. Under these circumstances a feeble U.S. economy would go once again into recession.

One negative outcome of all this uncertainty is that U.S. companies, despite rock-bottom interest rates, have hoarded about $1.7 trillion in cash. Judging from the performance of the U.S. markets lately, investors may be spooked by a possible increase in taxes on dividend and capital gains.

On Thursday, President Obama reiterated that he would not roll over tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. The problem is that implementing the President's tax ideas do not come anywhere near plugging the deficit. For example, taxing the rich and getting rid of tax breaks for corporations would only make a dent on the mammoth deficit.

It is in this context that a report by Erskine Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson assumes center stage. They have suggested a calibrated approach for bringing down the trillion dollar plus annual budget deficit. The two recommend a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

The duo has suggested reform in five critical areas: trimming healthcare expenses (which may consume as much as 25% of GDP), reforming social security (people are living a lot longer today than at the time when the system was devised), curtailing the defense bill, reforming the tax laws and managing the ever growing compound interest burden on the national debt.

While a solution to the impasse would be the favored approach, we recognize that there is a possibility that a bi-partisan compromise may not be reached. In that case, the Administration may simply claim that the national interest was subverted by the taxes on the rich debate. In any case, following the demise of the Bush era tax cuts, the Administration would get to collect some of the sought-after revenue.

Credit rating agencies must contend with the current uncertainty. Standard & Poor's Rating Services, a part of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. (NYSE: MHP) currently retains a AA+ local and foreign currency rating. Moody's Corp. (NYSE: MCO) has a negative outlook on the U.S. at present.

Gilead Presents Encouraging Data

Gilead Sciences (Nasdaq: GILD) recently presented encouraging long-term data on its HIV therapy Stribild from two ongoing phase III studies (102 and 103) as a first-line therapy. Data from study 102 revealed that Stribild was non-inferior to Gilead's Atripla after two years of treatment.

Data from study 103 demonstrated the non inferiority of Stribild to Norvir (ritonavir)-boosted Reyataz plus Truvada after a similar time period. While Norvir is marketed by Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT), Reyataz is marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY). Gilead presented the encouraging results at the 11th international congress on drug therapy regarding HIV infection in the UK.

We note that Stribild, a combination pill, is a new addition to Gilead's formidable HIV franchise. The drug was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in August 2012 as a first-line therapy for treating adults suffering from HIV. The approval was based on encouraging 48 weeks data from studies 102 and 103. Stribild is under review for the same indication in the EU.

Neutral on Gilead

We currently have a Neutral recommendation on Gilead. The stock carries a Zacks #3 Rank (Hold rating) in the short run. We remain optimistic on the growth prospects of Gilead's HIV drugs, Truvada and Atripla. We are also encouraged by the sales ramp of Complera/Eviplera, which together with Stribild, has further fortified the HIV franchise and helped to mitigate the impact of upcoming patent expirations.

Gilead is looking to combat the threat of genericization by inking deals, making acquisitions and introducing new products. To further strengthen its hepatitis C virus portfolio, Gilead purchased Pharmasset earlier in the year, for approximately $11.1 billion.

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