Mesoblast limited trading halt leaves investors guessing

Regenerative medicine business Mesoblast limited (ASX: MSB) has requested more time before it makes an announcement to the market regarding ‘material corporate developments with respect to certain assets of the company’.

The shares were unexpectedly suspended on June 1 and the company now hopes to make an announcement by June 10, with the delay suggesting the company has been caught by surprise in whatever has materialised.

Given the scarcity of information it is impossible to do anything other than speculate as to what may have happened, but I suspect bad news came its way on June 1 in terms of its partnership with US pharmaceutical giant Teva.

As recently as May 2016 after Mesoblast’s third quarter financial results analysts were reportedly questioning the company’s CEO over what the effect on cash flow would be if Teva were to pull out of its partnership in trialing treatments for chronic heart failure.

According to one analyst’s report the CEO inferred that the risk of Teva pulling out was “low to non-existent”, although today’s extension to the trading halt seems ominous for investors.

It is also possible to speculate that good news is coming in the shape of a new partnership agreement with a major pharmaceutical company for one of Mesoblast’s other products at the trial stage such as back pain or rheumatoid arthritis. Or that even better news is coming as the company has some game-changing clinical trial results to announce, although any of these scenarios would seem unlikely to require up to a week’s trading halt.

In my opinion the delay suggests Mesoblast has been surprised by some bad news and if it is related to its partnership agreements the share price will likely take a merciless pounding when it does return to the ASX boards.

In the most recent quarter net cash outflows were around US$22 million, while cash at the bank stood around US$100 million. This suggests the company has enough cash on hand to operate for at least another year on the status quo without having to seek more capital, although this is another metric shareholders need to keep an eye on.

Whatever is going on it seems management at Mesoblast will be working through lunch next week in an effort to get some news out to the market.

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Motley Fool contributor Tom Richardson has no position in any stocks mentioned.

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