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Ozempic or Tesla? Markets are in no doubt which is hotter

London CNN  —  First, Novo Nordisk, the company behind Ozempic and Wegovy, outgrew its native Denmark. Now, it’s bigger than Tesla. Shares in the pharmaceutical giant rose jumped more than 8% Thursday, pushing its market capitalization to $609 billion, about $40 billion more than Tesla’s valuation. Investors rushed into Novo Nordisk’s stock after the company reported early-stage results from a trial of amycretin, an experimental weight loss drug that can be taken in pill form. Phase I trial data showed that participants lost 13.1% of their weight after 12 weeks. Grégoire Biollaz, a senior investment manager at Pictet Asset Management who focuses on companies that help improve people’s health, called the results “very strong” and said they put Novo Nordisk (NVO) in a position to potentially dominate another corner of the weight loss drug market. “You have some physicians saying that, for some patients, taking an injection is a no-go and they (would rather) take an oral drug,” he explained to CNN. Novo Nordisk, once the little-known maker of diabetes drug Ozempic, has ballooned in value as the drug’s off-label use for weight loss has spread. Wegovy, which contains the same active ingredient as Ozempic, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for obesity in 2021. The company’s market cap is now larger than Denmark’s annual economic output of $410 billion and its success was largely responsible for the country dodging a recession last year. The economy grew by 1.8% in 2023, but would have shrunk 0.1% if not for the booming pharmaceutical industry, according to the Danish statistics office. Last year Novo Nordisk “was the difference between whether or not the Danish economy grew,” according to Jens Naervig Pedersen, a senior analyst at Danske Bank, and it is likely to remain “the main growth driver” this year. “We have this very large successful company that is pushing the economy higher,” he told CNN. “It’s creating jobs, it’s creating investments in new factories, jobs in the construction sector.” Tesla goes into reverse The fervor surrounding weight loss drugs — over their potential to boost economies by improving people’s health and to upend the business models of food and traditional weight loss companies — mirrors some of the revolutionary rhetoric around electric vehicles. But that industry is struggling as growth in demand for EVs shows signs of slowing. High prices, a lack of public charging infrastructure and confusing patchwork of tax credits in the United States have turned some potential buyers away. Elon Musk’s Tesla (TSLA), the EV heavyweight, is wobbling. While the company sold a record number of cars in the last three months of 2023, it lost its title as the world’s largest maker of EVs to China’s BYD during that period. In the face of rising competition, Tesla slashed prices for some of its models last year. Its stock has sunk 28% so far this year, dragged down, in part, by an arson attack on an electricity pylon close to its factory near Berlin, Germany, this week. The attack cut off the power supply to the plant, Tesla’s only one in Europe, halting production, and Reuters has reported that power is not expected to return until March 17. The All-Electric Ford Mach-E is displayed during the 2023 Los Angeles Auto Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center on November 24, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images Related article How EVs became such a massive disappointment By contrast, shares of Novo Nordisk are up by 30% this year, and by nearly 80% over the past 12 months. Eli Lilly (LLY), a US drugmaker active in the same field, has enjoyed similar gains this year. The companies have cornered the global market for weight loss drugs that mimic GLP-1, a naturally-occurring hormone that suppresses appetite. They have struggled to meet soaring demand for such drugs, and are funneling billions into expanding their manufacturing capacity. “Novo and Lilly are in this luxury position where you have too much demand for the drugs and they cannot supply the market, and that’s going to be the case also next year,” said Biollaz at Pictet. As the number of people defined as overweight or obese is expected to rise globally, the market for these drugs is likely to grow. The outlook for Tesla is far less certain, given Chinese competition and the apparent slowdown in take-up of EVs in the United States and Europe. It’s been a difficult start to the year for Musk, who was dethroned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as the world’s richest person earlier this week. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Musk’s net worth stands at $198 billion, while Bezos is worth $200 billion.