Diagnosis: JNJ A-OK

Health-care giant Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) hand-delivered a dose of effective painkiller medication this morning to investors sorely in need of some immediate relief. The maker of Tylenol (among other things) reported first-quarter results that easily topped analysts' expectations. The news, taken along with a benign inflation report, helped ease the symptoms of poor Mr. Market, who's been feeling under the weather lately. For the quarter, earnings advanced 17% to $0.97, and revenues climbed 11% to $12.8 billion.

Some know Johnson & Johnson best for its baby-care products, Band-Aid bandages, Aveeno skin lotion, and other consumer brands. Others associate the company with drug-coated stents, surgical devices, and medical diagnostic equipment. Finally, some think of it as a well-known pharmaceutical company that has developed drugs like Procrit, Remicade, and a host of others designed to treat a broad range of ailments. Actually, with more than 200 distinct operating companies, Johnson & Johnson is a leader in each of these areas -- and all three contributed to this morning's robust top-line growth.

During the quarter, worldwide sales of consumer products rose 11.4%, driven by a solid 20.7% jump overseas. Growth in the segment was paced by solid gains in over-the-counter Tylenol, as well as Aveeno skin-care products. Artificial sweetener Splenda, whose market share has topped 50%, also reported healthy sales.

Most of the attention lately, though, has been focused squarely on the war over drug-coated stents -- tiny devices that prop open the arteries during heart surgery. Johnson & Johnson was the first to enter the market two years ago this month. Despite a one-year head start, though, rival BostonScientific's (NYSE: BSX  ) competing Taxus stent gained ground quickly, and it now controls 60% of the $4 billion market. Johnson & Johnson's Cypher has the edge in foreign markets, though -- particularly in Japan, where it has no competition. While these two heavyweights slug it out toe-to-toe, Medtronic (NYSE: MDT  ) is eagerly making plans to enter the fray.

With the competition heating up, Cypher's first-quarter sales plunged 27% to $317 million. Nevertheless, it did show a sequential improvement from fourth-quarter revenues of $307 million, and the Cordis unit, which markets Cypher, posted overall growth of 10%, fueled by a 72% leap in international sales. Furthermore, the six other units comprising the medical devices and diagnostic division each reported revenue growth of better than 15%, pushing sales in the segment 16% higher to $4.8 billion.

Sales in the pharmaceutical segment -- Johnson & Johnson's largest -- came in 7% higher on mixed results. Epilepsy drug Topamax and rheumatoid arthritis treatment Remicade were the standouts -- each reporting sales gains of 24%. Those gains were partially offset, though, by a 1% drop in sales of pain-relief patch Duragesic, which is trying to fend off generic competition. Anemia treatment Procrit sales were also disappointing, particularly in the U.S., where they fell 18%. Still, the results stack up well next to Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) , whose first-quarter net income dropped 87% in the wake of well-publicized problems with high-profile drugs Bextra and Celebrex.

Last March, Chief Motley Fool Income Investor Matthew Emmert presented his case for Johnson & Johnson. How has it done since? In the past year, the stock has raced to its 20th straight year of double-digit earnings growth, boosted dividends for the 40th year in a row, expanded gross margins to a phenomenal 73%, and delivered a 28% return for shareholders. That kind of portfolio medicine tastes good in any flavor.

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Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter owns none of the companies mentioned.


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