Pharma boss to slash dividend by 30% as she sets out plans for ‘New GSK’

23 June 2021, 18:24

Emma Walmsley
Emma Walmsley. Picture: PA

The drug giant will demerge from its consumer healthcare business next year.

The boss of drug giant GSK has promised to grow both sales and profits and said she is prepared to lead the business following a planned split next year.

Emma Walmsley said the business expects sales to grow by around 5% a year until 2026 and adjusted operating profit by 10% over the same period.

Shareholders can also expect to see revenues from drugs and vaccines hitting at least £33 billion by 2031 compared with £24 billion last year.

Yet the business also set out plans for a 30% dip in its dividend.

It came as she detailed her plans for the “New GSK”, after the business jettisons its consumer healthcare division in the middle of next year.

Ms Walmsley said New GSK will keep a 20% stake in the consumer healthcare business but will give the rest to shareholders.

The unit will be listed on the London Stock Exchange as a separate business next year, and New GSK will sell off its remaining stake over time.

At an update to investors later in on Wednesday, Ms Walmsley said she is confident she can deliver the growth targets for the company and explained the reasons behind the decisions.

She said the company could “positively impact the health” of more than 2.5 billion people in the next decade.

Ms Walmsley’s pitch to investors has been vital for the future of the business, and was closely followed by Elliott Management, the US activist investor which took a multibillion-pound stake in GSK earlier this year.

Amid the split, Ms Walmsley is facing questions over whether she is the best person to run New GSK.

A veteran of L’Oreal, the chief executive rose up the ranks of GSK over the last decade, coming through its consumer healthcare division

But this division will no longer be part of the business that Ms Walmsley is set to lead.

However, she batted back claims that she will not be best placed to lead the business, and said she is surrounded by a strong team of experts.

“I’m not going to spend time talking about all the things I’m not,” she said.

“Let me tell you what I am… I am a change agent. I am a business leader, and I am very excited about the new plans for a New GSK that we’re laying out today.”

Facing questions from investors, she said the 20% investment would be sold down on a “timely” basis following a listing.

Questions were asked about tax implications of the new entity, which was said to be “tax efficient”.

This should be an efficient approach for a significant number of our shareholders,” finance chief Ian Mackay said.

Other topics raised included timelines for new drugs and vaccines, alongside requests for extra financial details and the company’s future direction.

Steve Scala, analyst at Cowens, questioned the positive messaging with the need for a significant overhaul.

He said: “Today GSK stated its commercial execution is industry leading, R&D productivity is top quartile, it has a leading HIV and vaccines portfolio, it has a differentiated strategy in immune oncology… but the dividend is still being cut, a leading consumer business is being divested and management believes there is a need for a new GSK.

“These are extreme measures although everything that was said implies the former GSK was doing just fine.

“In this industry extreme measures typically are not pursued unless things are not going well. So, what is the disconnect? What am I missing?”

Ms Walmsley said: “What we have been working on in the last four years has been a transformational level of change in GSK.

“We’ve been addressing long-term legacy challenges. We know this has been a company that has perennially disappointed when you look at the first half of the last decade.

“We are addressing questions of group structure, precisely to create value for shareholders and unlock the strengthening of the GSK balance sheet.

“We’ve really aimed to answer some very specific questions that shareholders wanted – what is this investment over the last few years; this significant amount of change – what does that translate to in terms of commitments to growth and commitments to profit.”

Elliott Management did not ask a question during the presentation.

Shareholders seemed pleased with the update, with shares closing the day up 14.4p, or 1%, at 1,409.2p.

By Press Association