Can Merck Outperform AbbVie and Eli Lilly in 2014?

After a tough 2013, can Merck come back to beat Eli Lilly and Abbvie this year?

Mar 6, 2014 at 9:30AM

Merck (NYSE:MRK) experienced a rather disappointing year in 2013, with its shares underperforming the S&P 500, as did sector peer Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY), although AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) delivered more impressive share price growth -- over 50% -- in 2013. 

2014 has seen a reversal of this trend, with Merck and Eli Lilly beating the S&P 500, while AbbVie is behind. So, can Merck stay ahead of AbbVie and the S&P 500? Furthermore, can it overtake Eli Lilly to be the best performing of the three pharmaceutical peers during 2014?

Upbeat news flow
Recent news flow has been fairly positive for Merck. Of course, its fourth quarter results were slightly disappointing, with net income down 14% when compared to the fourth quarter of 2012. However, this seems to have been priced in by the market, as shares underperformed the wider market during 2013 (as mentioned).

Of course, a major reason why Merck's shares have performed strongly in 2014 is developments surrounding its PD-1 drug, MK-3475. Indeed, Merck announced plans to partner with three major biopharma companies (Amgen, Pfizer, and Incyte) in January, with the group all set to combine MK-3475 with other drugs in clinical trials. In addition, Merck will increase its own work on the drug, with the company announcing early stage studies for 20 different PD-L1-positive solid tumor types that are yet to be explored.

More recently, news on Merck's pipeline has focused on its animal health division. Just last week a two-month head-to-head research study showed that Merck's Activyl was more effective than Frontline Plus in controlling flea populations on pets. Indeed, Activyl eliminated more than 99% of fleas, while Meral's Frontline Plus managed a reduction of around 55%.

Still on the topic of fleas, Merck also received marketing authorization in the European Union for the veterinary medicinal product Bravecto, which is the first and only treatment that has been shown to kill fleas for up to 12 weeks in a single dose (administered as a chewable tablet). The treatment is scheduled for launch across Europe as soon as April 2014.

More positive news flow
Of course, Merck isn't the only stock that has experienced upbeat news flow recently. For instance, AbbVie announced the completion of its Phase 3 hepatitis C virus (HCV) studies on the day of its fourth quarter 2013 results release. The news was positive, with patients enrolled in the trials sustaining relatively high responses to treatments. 

Meanwhile, Eli Lilly announced this week that its experimental, once-weekly drug for Type 2 diabetes, Dulaglutide, was comparable to Novo Nordisk's once-daily Victoza in reducing a measure of blood sugar in a patient study. This could provide Eli Lilly with a competitive advantage, with sales having the potential to reach around $2 billion per annum (should the drug be approved by the FDA).

An encouraging yield
As well as positive recent news flow, Merck continues to offer a significantly better yield than that found on the S&P 500. While the latter currently yields just 1.95%, Merck provides an income of 3.1%, and this could prove to be a key reason why it may outperform the index this year.

Indeed, sector peers AbbVie and Eli Lilly also offer significantly better yields than the index. The two companies both offer yields of 3.3% -- slightly ahead of Merck and two-thirds higher that that currently offered by the S&P 500.

Looking ahead
With a yield above that of the S&P 500, Merck looks to be well-placed to deliver continued strong performance in 2014. Of course, AbbVie and Eli Lilly fall into the same bracket, meaning they could also beat the S&P 500 this year. As such, it could be a positive year for all three stocks, and with the potential for further positive updates surrounding its pipeline, Merck in particular could have a great year.

More encouraging yields
Of course, it's not just Merck, Abbvie and Eli Lilly that offer above-average yields. One of the dirty secrets that few finance professionals will openly admit is the fact that dividend stocks as a group handily outperform their non-dividend paying brethren. The reasons for this are too numerous to list here, but you can rest assured that it’s true. However, knowing this is only half the battle. The other half is identifying which dividend stocks in particular are the best. With this in mind, our top analysts put together a free list of nine high-yielding stocks that should be in every income investor’s portfolio. To learn the identity of these stocks instantly and for free, all you have to do is click here now.

Peter Stephens has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.


Compare Brokers