In 3 of the past 4 market rebounds since 1982, equity gains slowed to a single-digit pace in the second year, after the initial rally. Now dividend stocks have extra appeal because they offer a tempting alternative to CDs, which pay virtually no interest at all, and long-term bonds, which pay a little bit more but leave you at the mercy of inflation.
Established value companies in stable industries have usually proven a better long-term investment. Before S&P cut Pfizer (PFE) ratings to 'AA' from 'AAA' on Oct 16, 2009, there were 5 companies with AAA credit ratings: Pfizer plus Automated Data Processing (ADP), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), ExxonMobil (XOM) and Microsoft (MSFT). In other words, 2 out of 5 were healthcare companies.
Major HealthCare Companies
I covered healthcare plans stocks such as UnitedHealth Group (UNH) in my Oct 25 article. Following are major healthcare companies in other subsectors inside the health care sector, sorted by yield:
LILLY ELI CO (LLY)
BRISTOL-MYERS SQ (BMY)
MERCK CO INC (MRK)
SANOFI-AVENTIS SA (SNY)
PFIZER INC (PFE)
JOHNSON AND JOH (JNJ)
NOVARTIS AG ADS (NVS)
ABBOTT LAB (ABT)
ALCON INC (ACL)
BAXTER INTL INC (BAX)
MEDTRONIC INC (MDT)
NOVO NORDISK A S (NVO)
Teva Pharmaceutical (TEVA)
Amgen Inc. (AMGN)
Gilead Sciences (GILD)
The top 8 companies in the above list yielding more than 3% are all major drug manufacturers. Some of them have single digit forward P/E. H1N1 could benefit vaccine-makers including Novartis (NVS), Sanofi-Aventis (SNY), and AstraZeneca (AZN). On November 25, U.S. health officials said that they are seeing a worrying pattern of serious bacterial infections in swine flu patients, mostly among younger adults not normally vulnerable to them.
In addition to pending health care reform, a common problem facing big pharma is that there are patents which will expire between 2010 and 2012. However, this industry has been looking to fuel growth via acquisitions, including blockbuster deals. Pharmaceutical giants are also looking to pick up some biotech companies to boost their pipelines.
Biotechnology probably offers the best level of innovation of any of the healthcare industries. Its P/E is low too. For example, Amgen (AMGN)’s P/E is only 12.
Although my core holdings are boring blue chip dividend stocks, I also allocated a very small portion of my portfolio in promising small caps. China Biologic Products (CBPO) is one of the leading plasma-based biopharmaceutical companies in China. For the first nine months of 2009, its total revenue was $81 million, up 142% from 2008. It has $50 million in cash and low debt. However, traded in OTC bulletin board, the stock price was extremely volatile. It also has derivative liabilities which might potentially affect its future income.
Top 10 HealthCare ETFs ( by Net Assets)
Fund Name (Ticker)
Earnings Growth Rate (ttm)
Health Care Select Sector SPDR (XLV)
Pharmaceutical HOLDRs (PPH)
iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology (IBB)
Biotech HOLDRs (BBH)
iShares Dow Jones US Healthcare (IYH)
Vanguard Health Care ETF (VHT)
iShares S&P Global Healthcare (IXJ)
SPDR S&P Biotech (XBI)
iShares Dow Jones US Medical Devices (IHI)
PowerShares Dynamic Biotech & Gen (PBE)
During the relatively benign 20-year period prior to 2008, most portfolios accumulated considerable short volatility biases, which looked very attractive to investors as a result of recent positive performance. It was this growing short volatility bias that created so much pain in the current downturn, according to CFA Digest November 2009 issue.
Buying after a 40% decline is not a safe bet for investors. Markets may continue to fall and often have no trouble reaching a bottom of 75% below peak. Recent examples include 1989’s Japan Nikkei index, 2000’s NASDAQ, 2007’s China market and 2008’s oil/natural gas prices. So if investors think the environment will remain volatile, they should look for stocks with a lower sensitivity to volatility. Even if they make fewer profits for you on the way up, they lose a lot less on the way back down.
With its forward average P/E of 12 and beta of 0.69, healthcare might be a great defensive sector. For those who need stable income, big pharmaceutical companies may be a good choice.
Disclosure: I have long positions on PPH and CBPO.OB.