Healthcare Stocks With Strong Dividend Histories

Includes: ABT, IXJ, JNJ, NVS, VHT
by: Drummond Osborn

If only Wall Street could dispense warnings in a manner similar to those popular pharmaceuticals advertised during sporting events and in golfing magazines.

Warning: In the rare event of a market advance lasting more than four consecutive months, seek immediate financial help to manage long-term expectations. Should you experience severe short-sightedness or become blind to equity market risk, consult your investment professional.

With the markets continuing to push higher, I've been combing the annals of investing to find some comfort in the market's ability to sustain the recent gains. Given current election cycle political dysfunction, it is not surprising that the markets are snubbing historic norms. According to the 2012 Stock Trader's Almanac, early run-ups in election years are most common with a popular incumbent. Yet, President Obama's popularity has been anything but stellar, suggesting the markets should not be so red hot. And, of the 15 election years dating back to 1952, only 6 have produced double-digit gains, with 4 having ended in the red - including the 33.8% loss in 2008. Yet, as of late-March, we've already seen double-digit returns on the S&P 500 and NASDAQ. Lastly, election year history has shown double-digit returns when January, February and March offer back-to-back-to-back positive months. Yet again, investor money remains uneasy and on the sidelines, while volume remains muted.

Regardless of popularity or party, the election year Dow (dating back to the Truman administration) averages less than 5%. Toss in a cannibalistic Republican primary season, and this "electile dysfunction" should have investors reaching for some pharmacological assistance. No, I'm not advocating investors should self-medicate. I'm suggesting a dose of healthcare sector investing.

Broad markets have really soared in 2012, but many healthcare related stocks have remained benign. Healthcare stocks, however, often show better performance in the latter two-thirds of the year. With a focus toward dividend-oriented investors, I dug into healthcare companies which have strong histories of raising dividends. Making my list: Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT), Glaxosmithcline plc adr (NYSE:GSK), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Astrazeneca (NYSE:AZN), Stryker (NYSE:SYK), and Novartis (NYSE:NVS). All of these stocks are trading below my targets for fair market value, and sport dividends ranging from approximately 1.3% for Stryker to over 6% for Astrazeneca (ANZ). Investors with cash still on the sidelines or looking to rotate profits toward a different sector should consider buying on even small market dips. For domestic names, I like ABT below 64. The international name I most like is NVS at a discounted price nearer 54. While I do like NVS, investors seeking dividends need patience as dividends are typical declared annually in late February.

Rumors and recalls can create quick swings in the price of individual healthcare stocks. So, some investors may prefer a slightly more diversified, less volatile approach by picking up a healthcare focused ETF such as Vanguard Healthcare ETF (NYSEARCA:VHT) which holds nearly 300 stocks (though 50% of assets are in the top 10 holdings). VHT holds only US companies and kicks off a dividend yield of approximately 1.8%. Global exposure to such names as AZN or GSK can be found through the S&P Global Healthcare ETF (NYSEARCA:IXJ). This fund pays a slightly higher yield of 2.3%, but demands a bit more caution as the fund maintains a wider bid/ask spread of over 6%. I would definitely wait for dips to buy this ETF and make sure to control cost through use of limit orders on all purchases.

Though our Supreme Court justices may be in the process of deciding the legislative prescription for healthcare reform, I believe our medical practitioners will continue needing quality healthcare companies for dispensing real medicine to an aging population. For this reason, I see the healthcare sector as investor's antidote to 2012 electile dysfunction. If we're lucky, maybe this dysfunction is simply a seasonal allergy to common sense politics - though that would probably require a whole different set of warning labels.

Disclosure: I am long ABT, JNJ, NVS.