Divestment Is the Name of the Game for Johnson & Johnson

Recent news flow highlights the encouraging progress made by Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) as it seeks top-line growth.

Jan 19, 2014 at 4:15PM

Divestment, it seems, is a hot topic in the global health-care sector. A number of major health-care players are shifting their business strategies in one way or another and are seeking to offload various parts of their businesses.

Although company-specific, reasons for doing so usually make sense: slow growth in certain divisions, a strategic shift away from one product line or type, and a change in focus for a company are all valid reasons for divestment.

So it's encouraging to see that Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) appears to be making continued progress with the divestment of what it deems to be its slower-growing products and businesses. Recent developments include news that it's close to offloading its blood-testing unit for just over $4 billion, with private equity outfit Carlyle Group being the mooted bidder.

If such a sale goes through (it is rumored to become a formal announcement as soon as this week), then it would be good news for Johnson & Johnson. Its revenue has stagnated somewhat over the past five years, with it being just 5.5% higher in 2012 than it was in 2008. Therefore, it clearly needs to change its strategy and focus on growing the top line, since costs haven't shown the same low growth over the past five years. This has led to a squeezing of profit, with earnings per share being 14.7% lower in 2012 than they were in 2008.

Nevertheless, Johnson & Johnson has shown impressive absolute share-price performance over the same period. Shares were around $57 at the end of 2008 and, having fallen to less than $50 in 2009, they have recovered to reach their current price of $95.

Of course, a comparison to the Dow over the five-year period highlights their relative underperformance, with the Dow delivering a capital gain of 91% and Johnson and Johnson adding just 66% over the same time period.

However, with a strategy to sell off lower-growth parts of the business (such as the blood-testing unit), Johnson & Johnson could be one to watch. Certainly, market forecasts seem to indicate that its low-growth days could be behind it, with the market expecting revenue to increase by just under 15% over the next three years -- around 4.7% per annum.

As I mentioned, Johnson & Johnson isn't the only global health-care company seeking to shift its strategy. GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) is doing something similar with its consumer brands, with soft drinks Ribena and Lucozade being sold and the company using the proceeds to invest in research and development facilities, as well as refocusing on its drug pipeline. Although its pipeline is strong, the refocusing of internal capital could prove to be positive for the stock, since it may lead to higher growth rates for the top and bottom lines.

Similarly, Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) recently announced that it's stepping back from its diabetes alliance with AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN). Although diabetes drug development is a fast-growing space, the capital generated from the sale of its stake allows it to simplify its operating model and reallocate the capital to areas that it thinks could deliver increased long-term value for shareholders.

So divestment seems to be the name of the game, not only for Johnson & Johnson but also for GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb. As they continue to reallocate capital over the medium to long term, top-line disappointments over the past five years could prove to be a thing of the past.

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Fool contributor Peter Stephens owns shares of AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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