Can Anything Stop Johnson & Johnson?

Shares of Johnson & Johnson (NYS: JNJ) hit a 52-week high on Wednesday. Let's take a look at how it got there and see if clear skies are still in the forecast.

How it got there
I'll tell you how Johnson & Johnson got to yet another new 52-week high: by offering premium drugs, medical devices, and consumer products that are relatively unaffected by the vacillation of the economy. Far removed from the instability of Europe's debt crisis and China's growth slowdown, J&J's cash flow continues to stream in uninterrupted, year-in and year-out.

The days of rapid growth for J&J are long gone, but the company is doing what it can to grow its business by looking overseas and through acquisitions. J&J's recent purchase of Synthes for $19.7 billion is positioned to be a gigantic growth driver over the next decade. Synthes is an orthopedic surgical device maker that is heavily invested in emerging markets, an area that J&J lacks exposure. The deal is also expected to add to J&J's bottom line immediately - a reverse from its previous stance .

Another recent impetus sending the stock higher was J&J's third-quarter earnings report. Despite litigation, acquisition costs, and ongoing recall costs for children's Tylenol and Motrin eating into its bottom line, J&J surpassed analysts' estimates and boosted its full-year forecast due to robust medicine and medical device sales. Prostate cancer drug Zytiga and rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease treatment Remicade provided the biggest boost on the drug side of J&J's business . As my Foolish colleague Dan Carroll notes, Remicade partner Merck (NYS: MRK) ceded its licensing rights in key international markets recently, which should give J&J an extra boost in its bottom line over the coming six years prior to Remicade's patent expiration .

What could stop J&J
Like all companies, J&J still has pitfalls that could disrupt its path to prosperity. For one, both J&J and Medtronic (NYS: MDT) are slated to face a 2.3% excise tax on medical devices beginning in 2013 as part of the Affordable Care Act. No one is quite sure how badly the tax will affect earnings, and we all know investors hate uncertainty.

The stars didn't align for J&J's Alzheimer's treatment, bapineuzumab, either. The treatment, which was developed in collaboration with Pfizer (NYS: PFE) and investments from Elan (NYS: ELN) , failed on multiple fronts and was eventually scrapped, costing J&J $340 million .

What's next?
Now for the $64,000 question: What's next for Johnson & Johnson? That question is going to depend on the continued success of Zytiga and Remicade in lieu of greater generic competition; whether J&J can keep raising its already impressive dividend; and if it can grow its operations successfully in markets abroad.

Our very own CAPS community gives the company a highly coveted five-star rating, with a whopping 96.5% of members expecting it to outperform. I can be counted among the 13,500-plus optimistic CAPS members having made a CAPScall of outperform that's currently underwater by two points.

Have no fear; I'm in this one for the long haul. There really isn't much that stands in the way of Johnson & Johnson and success. Many of the company's key drugs are still years away from a patent expiration, and the Tylenol/Motrin recall will be over soon (I hope!). Although the company has underperformed the S&P 500 in relative terms, it's still up 14% since my selection, and it has a 50-year streak of annual dividend raises to back it up. There are few reasons to bet against J&J and far too many reasons to buy -- it's just that simple.

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Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of, and creating a diagonal call position in, Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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