The Dow Jones Dives Alongside Johnson & Johnson

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The markets are taking a step back from recent record highs today. As of 2:15 p.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) has lost more than 60 points, with most of its member stocks in the red.

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) is among the Dow's worst performers today, as investors have pulled back from the stock's 33% year-to-date rise. Shares of the health care giant are down 1% to rank among the Dow's worst losers, but don't fret about the fall: Johnson & Johnson is still out-competing its toughest rivals where it matters most.

Johnson & Johnson's global profile
Sales have fallen off their fast-paced growth recently at Johnson & Johnson, as the company's third-quarter revenue pulled back from its year-to-date growth. For the quarter, the firm's sales grew by only 3.1% -- less than half the stellar 6.6% sales growth Johnson & Johnson recorded over the first nine months of 2013 in all. That's better than the Dow Jones' other big drugmakers, which have been dealing with the patent cliff and its related problems, but Johnson & Johnson investors expect consistency from this firm's breadth across the health care market.

Blame sluggish U.S. sales for that decline. The United States makes up around 45% of Johnson & Johnson's sales profile, but the region's revenue growth slumped to just 1.7% for the third quarter. That actually fell below the likes of rival Abbott Labs's (NYSE: ABT  )  for that time period; Abbott racked up 3.3% American sales growth. Take a look over the longer term, however, and Johnson & Johnson's outpacing its competitor, as Abbott's U.S. sales have fallen 1% over the last nine months.

Abbott's one of Johnson & Johnson's closest competitors, but since the company has spun off its branded pharmaceutical firm, it's not so much a potent growth engine as a broad and consistent play for investors. It shows up internationally as well, where Johnson & Johnson has its rival firmly beat.

J&J's European business has exploded this year despite the downturn in the region's economy. European sales have jumped 10.4% over the past nine months. Adding to Johnson & Johnson's global success, non-U.S. Western Hemisphere sales have climbed 5% over the first three quarters of the year. Abbott has posted respectable 3.4% sales growth outside of the U.S. overall through the same time period, but such growth slowed down to just more than 1% in the third quarter.

It's a good lead for Johnson & Johnson over its closest rival, but even J&J has room to improve. Its Asia-Pacific and Africa sales have failed to impress, gaining only 2.2% so far in 2013. Considering China's and India's health care potential and middle-class surge, it's pivotal that Johnson & Johnson push more strongly into those regions in the future.

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