A Dividend Raise 7 Years in the Making

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It's sad when keeping revenue "about the same" as last year is seen as a healthy situation, but such is the life for the pharmaceutical industry.

Merck (NYS: MRK) will see generic competition for its top-selling allergy and asthma drug Singulair next August, so making up for that lost revenue and keeping 2012 revenue equal to this year should be seen as a solid win. Singulair is a $5 billion drug, after all.

Over the next two years, Merck plans to seek Food and Drug Administration approval for eight more medications on top of the five approvals it received this year. The drugs' treatments run the gamut from chronic insomnia to hardening of the arteries to osteoporosis, and there's even an improved version of its cervical-cancer vaccine Gardasil. There are also two allergy medicines to replace Singulair. Merck's investors can thank the timely purchase of Schering-Plough for many of the drugs, including an anesthesia-reversal drug, Bridion, which has been years in the making.

There are no guarantees that the drugs will be approved -- this is the FDA, after all -- and there's no guarantees that doctors will prescribe them even if they are approved. Witness Merck's new hepatitis C drug Victrelis' inability to compete with Vertex Pharmaceuticals' (NAS: VRTX) Incivek.

But Merck certainly doesn't look like it's worried about its ability to create cash flows. For the first time since it lost Vioxx in 2004, Merck raised its dividend. And it wasn't a token raise, either; the 10.5% increase to $0.42 per quarter gives Merck a dividend yield of 4.7%. That's juicier than Pfizer (NYS: PFE) , Johnson & Johnson (NYS: JNJ) , and Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYS: BMY) .

You can still get a larger income with Eli Lilly (NYS: LLY) , but you're probably sacrificing growth potential to get it. And remember, this is the pharmaceutical industry, so a lack of growth is actually a decline.

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At the time this article was published Fool contributorBrian Orelliholds no position in any company mentioned. Check out hisholdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals and creating a diagonal call position in Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't 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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