Updated Feb 22, 2018

Pharma's $50 billion tax windfall for investors

The pharmaceutical industry is using a large portion of its windfall from Republicans' corporate tax cuts to boost its stock prices. Nine drug companies are spending a combined $50 billion on new share buyback programs, a sum that towers over investments in employees or drug research and development.

The bottom line: All of those buybacks were announced during or after the passage of the Republican tax bill. That money is enriching hedge funds, other Wall Street investors and top drug company executives, but it isn't necessarily helping patients.

Expand chart
Data: Company documents; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

That's not all: Some drug companies also increased quarterly dividends following the tax overhaul. For example, AbbVie increased its cash dividend by 35% while at the same time committing to a new $10 billion share repurchase program.

  • Dividends dole out cash to existing investors, and share buybacks boost a company's stock price by making shares scarcer.
  • The new tax law, which slashed the corporate tax rate and made it easier for companies to repatriate overseas cash, has made dividends and share buybacks quick and appealing options.
  • Several drug company buybacks are a lot larger than prior share repurchase programs.
  • Stock returns help people with 401k retirement accounts, but they mostly benefit wealthy investors and executives. And half of U.S. households don't own any stock.

The big picture: The large buyback programs are rolling out while the same pharmaceutical companies raise drug prices and while Americans struggle to afford their prescriptions.

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the main drug industry trade group, referred share buyback questions to employer groups.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 5,410,228 — Total deaths: 345,105 — Total recoveries — 2,169,005Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,643,499 — Total deaths: 97,722 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

The CDC is warning of potentially "aggressive rodent behavior" amid a rise in reports of rat activity in several areas, as the animals search further for food while Americans stay home more during the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers: More than 97,700 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 366,700 Americans have recovered and more than 14.1 million tests have been conducted.

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Japan's economy minister outlined plans on Monday to end the nationwide state of emergency as the number of new novel coronavirus cases continues to decline to fewer than 50 a day, per Bloomberg. Japan has reported 16,550 cases and 820 deaths.

By the numbers: Over 5.4 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.1 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 13.7 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,800 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.