With the bull market looking increasingly vulnerable to a steep selloff, many investors are wisely seeking out safe, reliable market leaders that pay generous dividends. A top name to consider: the iconic healthcare firm Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ).
This long-time component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average dominates on several fronts including pharmaceuticals, medical devices and consumer healthcare/personal care products. And it throws off uncommonly large amounts of cash.
Indeed, free cash flow totaled more than $125 billion from 2005 through 2014, according to Morningstar data. That's substantially more than many other Dow icons including McDonald's Corp. (NYSE: MCD), Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA), Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) and Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE: PG). During the same period, these four firms reported cumulative free cash of $37 billion, $44 billion, $99 billion and $103 billion, respectively.
Along with tens of billions in cash on the balance sheet, superior free cash flow enabled JNJ to dole out nearly $57 billion in dividends from 2005 to 2014. As the following chart from the firm's investor relations webpage shows, the per-share payout more than doubled to $2.76 during that time. It has since climbed to an annualized $3 a share, which translates into an attractive 3.1% yield. (Note: the data listed for 2015 represents the payouts so far and is not annualized out for the entire year.)
First-quarter headline results were disappointing, with sales and earnings both falling by about 4% from the year-ago quarter. Like most multinationals, JNJ fell victim to an uncommonly strong dollar. This hindered Q1 performance by triggering less favorable exchange rates in the foreign regions where JNJ does business.
However, currency headwinds are typically transient. In JNJ's case, they're simply masking an underlying strength that's more readily apparent over longer time frames. In the past three years, for example, revenue climbed at a solid 5% pace, while net income expanded by about 19% annually.
These results are due in large part to the pharmaceutical segment, which accounts for more than 40% of the $74-billion top line and nearly 60% of pre-tax profits. The segment is growing at a low-to-mid double-digit rate and boasts 11 blockbuster drugs, each of which has annual sales between $2.5 billion and nearly $7 billion. Areas of prominence include immunology, infectious diseases, neurology and oncology.
Virtually every successful medication comes under fire sooner or later, though, which is why JNJ maintains an active new-drug pipeline. The company's R&D efforts have yielded 14 new major compounds since 2009, and management expects to launch 10 more drugs over the next several years.
Among the biggest winners introduced in the past few years were Olysio/Sovriad, which treats chronic Hepatitis C; the prostate cancer drug Zytiga; and the oral anticoagulant Xarelto. These three drugs posted 2014 sales of $2.3 billion, $2.2 billion and $1.5 billion, respectively. Based on first-quarter sales of $278 million, JNJ's new diabetes drug, Invokana appears to be on pace to achieve blockbuster status this year too.
There are similar hopes for daratumumab, which is an experimental drug for a highly lethal blood cancer called multiple myeloma. Daratumumab is only in mid-stage trials, but results have been so promising that management already started the process of filing a licensing application with the FDA.
As JNJ's main growth engine, the pharmaceutical business typically consumes most of the nearly $9-billion-a-year R&D budget. However, more than $2 billion of this is going toward the other two segments, medical devices and consumer products. Neither segment is generating much top-line growth at present. But their contribution -- combined sales and pre-tax profits of about $42 billion and $10 billion, respectively -- is still enormous.
Moreover, analysts say that the medical device business in particular is poised to gain momentum because of plans to introduce more than two dozen new or improved products by the end of next year. Surgical robotics technologies, hip-replacement systems, high-speed surgical power tools and insulin pumps for patients with diabetes are among the products scheduled for launch during that time.
The consumer segment is seeking to jumpstart growth, too, with 20 new-product launches planned for this year. Recent additions include new formulations of the well-known Listerine brand, a Rogaine hair re-growth foam that's formulated for women and a re-launch of the nighttime pain reliever Tylenol PM. Meanwhile, the segment continues to generate substantial profits with long-dominant brands of over-the-counter analgesics, allergy medicines, skin care products and oral care products.
Risks To Consider: Biosimilars are the fastest-growing segment of the pharmaceutical industry and will likely pose a progressively greater competitive threat. Also, JNJ has run into problems with several products recently. For instance, the firm is still dealing with the legal fallout related to its antipsychotic drug Risperdal, which has drawn numerous multi-million-dollar lawsuits for causing a side effect called gynecomastia (the growth of breast tissue in males).
Action To Take --> While investors should be mindful of risks facing Johnson & Johnson, they are exactly the types of obstacles that the company has always been able to overcome during its nearly 130-year history. With such a diverse product line, reliable cash flows and steady innovations, JNJ should remain one of the safest and most generous dividend payers around. The firm boasts 52 straight years of dividend raises, and I see the payout comfortably maintaining the past decade's 9% pace of growth. There's plenty of potential for solid stock price gains in the years ahead, as well.
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