Investors cheered the surprising news that the Aspen Pharmacare had cut its debt to less than R40 billion in the year to June. File Photo: IOL
JOHANNESBURG – Aspen Pharmacare surged 14 percent on the JSE on Tuesday as investors cheered the surprising news that the drug-maker had cut its debt to less than R40 billion in the year to June.

The mountain of debt has worried investors as levels inched close to breaching debt covenants and as it was larger than the company’s R35bn market capitalisation.

The share later closed at R82.41.

“Net borrowings declined to less than R40bn at June 30, 2019, from R53.5bn at December 31, 2018,” the company said.

Aspen said it had delivered strong cash flows in the second half of the year, including a positive cash inflow from working capital.

It expected the operating cash flow to headline earnings conversion ratio to be reported at more than 100 percent for the year ended June 30, up from 47 percent in the six months to December 31, 2018.

During the year, the group disposed of the Nutritionals business, and divested from a non-core pharmaceutical portfolio of products in the Asia Pacific region.

“The net profit before tax from these disposals amounted to about R5.4bn,” the company said. Total impairments stood at R3bn.

“Contributing factors to these impairments are expected pressure on the oncology portfolio in Europe and the restructuring of certain production facilities to align these with production process improvements and expected future manufacturing requirements,” the company said.

Aspen, which restructured its business to focus on therapeutic products including steroids, and hormonal replacement therapy products, operates in 50 countries.

Alec Abraham, a senior equity analyst at Sasfin, said Aspen had surprised the market by reducing debt to less than R40bn.

“I don’t believe trading operations have improved much. I suspect the company managed to cut debt on the back of proceeds from the sale of its infant milk sale, cash released from working capital and probably pre-deferred payments,” said Abraham.

In May the group said authorities had given the green light for the sale of its New Zealand infant-formula business to French company Lactalis International after delays to the deal wiped out more than 30percent of the drug maker’s market value.

Lactalis is owned by the three billionaire Besnier brothers.

Last month the group drug maker said it would pay the UK’s National Health Service £8m (R147.18m) after admitting anti-competitive behaviour.

It made commitments to the UK Competition and Markets Authority saying it would make ex-gratia payment of £8m related to the supply of Fludrocortisone and Dexamethasone.