The Most Promising Dividends in Big Pharma

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Dividend payers deserve a berth in any long-term stock portfolio. But seemingly attractive dividend yields are not always as fetching as they may appear. Let's see which companies in the pharmaceutical industry offer the most promising dividends.

Yields and growth rates and payout ratios, oh my!
Before we get to those companies, though, you should understand just whyyou'd want to own dividend payers. These stocks can contribute a huge chunk of growth to your portfolio in good times, and bolster it during market downturns.

As my colleague Matt Koppenheffer has noted: "Between 2000 and 2009, the average dividend-adjusted return on stocks with market caps above $5 billion and a trailing yield of 2.5% or better was a whopping 114%. Compare that to a 19% drop for the S&P 500."

When hunting for promising dividend payers, unsophisticated investors will often just look for the highest yields they can find. While these stocks will indeed pay out the most, the yield figures apply only for the current year. Extremely steep dividend yields can be precarious, and even solid ones are vulnerable to dividend cuts.

When evaluating a company's attractiveness in terms of its dividend, it's important to examine at least three factors:

  1. The current yield
  2. The dividend growth
  3. The payout ratio

If a company has a middling dividend yield, but a history of increasing its payment substantially from year to year, it deserves extra consideration. A $3 dividend can become $7.80 in 10 years, if it grows at 10% annually. (It will top $20 after 20 years.) Thus, a 3% yield today may be more attractive than a 4% one, if the 3% company is rapidly increasing that dividend.

Next, consider the company's payout ratio, which reflects what percentage of income the company is spending on its dividend. In general, the lower the number, the better. A low payout ratio means there's plenty of room for generous dividend increases. It also means that much of the company's income remains in its hands, giving it a lot of flexibility. That money can fund the business's expansion, pay off debt, buy back shares, or even buy other companies. A steep payout ratio reflects little flexibility for the company, less room for dividend growth, and a stronger chance that if the company falls on hard times, it will have to reduce its dividend.

Peering into pharmaceuticals
Below, I've compiled some of the major dividend-paying players in the pharmaceutical industry (and a few smaller outfits), ranked according to their dividend yields:

Company

Recent Yield

5-Year Avg. Annual Div. Growth Rate

Payout Ratio

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Eli Lilly (NYS: LLY) 5.5%4.8%46%Add
GlaxoSmithKline4.9%4.7%105%Add
Merck4.7%0.0%162%Add
Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYS: BMY) 4.6%0.2%68%Add
Pfizer (NYS: PFE) 4.3%(5.8%)70%Add
Abbott Labs (NYS: ABT) 3.8%9.4%55%Add
Sanofi (NYS: SNY) 3.7%10.1%79%Add
AstraZeneca (NYS: AZN) 3.6%14.5%43%Add
Johnson & Johnson3.5%8.9%52%Add
Novartis (NYS: NVS) 3.5%17.6%47%Add

Data: Motley Fool CAPS.

All of these stocks have attractive dividend yields. To distinguish them from one another, you should also look at growth rates and payout ratios. Growth rates suggest how much higher a dividend could go in the future, but a steep payout ratio indicates that there's a limit on that dividend upside.

Just right
As I see it, while most of the companies above are rather compelling, Sanofi, Novartis, Abbott Labs, and AstraZeneca offer the best combination of dividend traits. Each has strong dividend growth and a payout ratio that offers some room for higher payouts in the future.

Of course, as with all stocks, you'll want to look into more than just a company's dividend situation before making a purchase decision. Still, these stocks' compelling dividends make them great places to start your search, particularly if you're excited by the prospects for this industry.

Do your portfolio a favor. Don't ignore the growth you can gain from powerful dividend payers.

To get more ideas for great dividend-paying stocks, read about"13 High-Yielding Stocks to Buy Today." 

At the time this article was published Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjianowns shares of Novartis and Johnson & Johnson, but she holds no other position in any company mentioned.Click hereto see her holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of GlaxoSmithKline, Abbott Laboratories, and Johnson & Johnson.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Abbott Laboratories, and Johnson & Johnson, as well as creating a diagonal call position in Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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