3 Leading Pharmaceutical Stocks To Buy Now

 |  Includes: JNJ, MRK, PFE
by: Stock Croc

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) is among the world's leading health care companies, with large positions in medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, and over the counter medications. It, like most large pharmaceutical companies, had entered a period of limited growth as an entire generation of blockbuster drugs has been losing patent protection, and new medications are a long ways from replacing that lost revenue.

In the past few years, Johnson & Johnson has lost, or is about to lost patent protection for Risperdal, Topamax, Levaquin, and Concerta. At its 2007 peak, Risperdal sold about $4.5 billion for Johnson & Johnson. Risperdal has also been at the heart of over $3.5 in judgments and settlements based upon the company promoting the drug for uses not authorized by the FDA. Topamax had sales of about $2.4 billion the year before it lost patent protection, and had also been marketed beyond the FDA authority Concerta, with annual sales of $1.3 billion, lost patent coverage in 2010, and Levaquin, with sales of about $1.4 billion, also competes against generic equivalents. These medications accounted for about 30% of Johnson & Johnson's peak pharmaceutical sales year, 2008.

In Johnson & Johnson's third quarter of 2012, revenues came to $17.1 billion, higher than I was expecting. It was 6.5% above the same quarter of 2011, and if currency values had remained steady, revenue would have increased nearly 11%. Profits came to a GAAP $3.0 billion, or $1.05 per share Excluding certain one-time costs and adjusted profits came to $3.5 billion, or $1.25 per share. Year ago adjusted earnings were $3.4 billion, or $1.24 per share. That revenue growth in large measure was due to Johnson & Johnson's mid 2011 $22 billion acquisition of big European orthopedics maker Sythes.

The heart and soul of Johnson & Johnson's analgesic roster is of course its over the counter Tylenol brand. Many of the company's over the counter medicines have been and will continue to be unavailable as the production facilities were shown to be faulty, and it will not be until 2014 that Benadryl, Tylenol, and other branded products will be widely available, by which time shelf space at retail pharmacies may have been lost. It bears noting that while many regard Tylenol (aka acetaminophen) as the safest of all over the counter painkillers, it is responsible for more liver damage than any other substance in this country.

On the new drug front, Johnson & Johnson received FDA approval late last year for Nucynta, specifically designed to treat chronic pain associated with diabetes induced peripheral neuropathy.

Johnson & Johnson may not be much of a growth company. But what it lacks in fireworks, it more than makes up for by consistency in a sort of monotonous way. Adjusted earnings have gone up 29 years in a row, and dividends have been hiked fifty years in a row. It is safe to assume, one way or another, Johnson & Johnson will report more than last year's $5.00 per share in adjusted earnings for all of 2012. The company itself has indicated its expectation of $5.05 to $5.10 per share. There are few companies I know of more suitable for the conservative, income oriented investor than Johnson & Johnson.

Leading pharmaceutical maker Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) has not yet released earnings as I write this, but it strong second quarter lends some optimism that the company may have turned the corner after a rough couple of years, largely caused by patent expirations of several blockbuster drugs, especially Lipitor.

Second quarter earnings increased 25% from the same quarter of 2011, to $3.25 billion. Earnings per share of $0.43 per share were a 30% advance from the $0.33 per share last year. An ongoing share buyback plan accounted for the better per share number. More efficient manufacturing and a slashing of selling expenses swamped revenues lost from the Lipitor franchise. Adjusted earnings came to $0.63 per share, a full 15% above analysts' expectations.

The next big hurdle will come in May, 2014, when its blockbuster Celebrex, a broad based analgesic, has its patent expire. Largely due to its 2009 acquisition of Wyeth, Pfizer has a broad range of pharmaceuticals for sale across most ailments.

Earnings for the third quarter are expected to be about $0.52 per share, which would be a 16% drop from the year ago quarter. Pfizer has beaten analyst expectations each of the past four quarters, and I expect it to beat expectations by a few cents per share this time as well.

Our friends at Dr. Scholls recently determined that 91% of Americans have experienced some sort of foot pain in their lives, 56% of those people have missed an activity or event due to the foot pain, and overall, 40% of Americans report foot pain gets in the way of walking more. Dr. Scholls is a subsidiary of Merck (NYSE:MRK), and dominates the over the counter foot therapy market.

Many types of foot pain are caused by flip flops, high heels, or other non-supportive shoe type. In most of those cases, over the counter remedies can suffice. But Merck and other big many types of analgesics designed to ameliorate various joint pains, including those in the foot.

Of course, the notion of foot pain has many different potential sources. There are overuse issues, fibromyalgia, peripheral disease pain, neuropathy, and many other sources. Nerve root, fractures, and overuse injuries are easy enough to identify and treat. Anecdotally, I run plenty of distance race events, and a condition of plantar fasciitis is surely the most common injury among competitive runners. This condition is almost unknown in sub Saharan Africa, where kids playing and running in bare feet strengthens their feet.

There is no real systemic treatment for common, debilitating foot pain. Analgesics carry myriad side effects. Over the counter remedies do not offer customized fit. Podiatrist supplied orthotics cost hundreds of dollars. In the middle of those extremes are companies that offer semi customized orthotics to prevent and treat common causes of foot pain. One such company is Heel-That-Pain. Launched in 2001, this California based company offers orthotics through its website for a host of foot pain sources, without using drugs. Its products are fully guaranteed, and include celebrity endorsements. Most podiatrists would undoubtedly prefer to treat patients without drugs, and Heel-That-Pain is a fine resource for most foot pain sufferers.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.