3 Top Health Care Dividend Stocks: GlaxosmithKline, Pfizer, and PetMed Express

Saddled with high development costs, the health-care sector for the most part is not a source of high dividends. Researcher FactSet found that health-care stocks in the first quarter collectively posted the third-lowest dividend yield out of 10 industries surveyed.

Still, several companies in the industry are uncharacteristically generous when it comes to payouts. Here are three that are pumping out relatively above-average yields:

GlaxoSmithKline
Revenues at GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK  )  have trended down over the past four fiscal years, and operating margins are not what they used to be.

But there's more than enough reason for optimism. The pharmaceutical giant has scored a half-dozen recent regulatory approvals lately, including a pair for respiratory treatments Breo and Anoro. It's estimated that sales of just those two drugs alone could hit $2.7 billion per year.

Additionally, the company has entered into a very promising consumer goods joint venture with Novartis (NYSE: NVS  ) . This business, to be majority-owned by GlaxoSmithKline and called GSK Consumer Healthcare, will combine certain product lines of the two powerhouses.

The company's most recently declared quarterly payout was a shade over $0.64 per share, for a yield of 4.7%. The payout ratio (the percentage of earnings it distributes as dividends) stands at 72%, which is high relative to nonpharma stocks but not unusual for this sector.

Regardless, if GlaxoSmithKline's promising recent initiatives bear fruit the company stands a good chance of being able to maintain or increase that shareholder payout.

PetMed Express
This highly specialized purveyor of medications and other supplies for animals has struggled to grow its revenues and bottom line over the past few years. Despite that, PetMed Express' (NASDAQ: PETS  ) margins are healthy, and it likes to keep its dividend competitive. Since that payout was initiated in 2009, it has crawled slowly upward from an initial $0.10 per share to the current $0.17.

Since the company hasn't been hitting it out of the park of late, its stock now trades at about $13 per share, more or less the midpoint of its historical range. This gives the shares a yield just above 5%.

PetMed Express likes to pay out much of its profit as dividends, with a present payout ratio of 74%. That's high, but dividends only cost the company about $3.4 million each quarter.  Meanwhile, at the end of its most recent quarter it had nearly 10 times that amount in cash and short-term investments. 

Pfizer
Big pharma Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) has been a steady dividend payer for decades. The company initiated the payout in 1980, and for many years added to it on a regular basis. 

That streak came to an abrupt halt in early 2009, when Pfizer agreed to acquire fellow drugmaker Wyeth for $68 billion. In the wake of the deal, Pfizer chopped its dividend from $0.32 per share to $0.16.

Perhaps luckily for its income-loving investors, the company came back empty-handed in its latest buyout foray. Despite an intense courtship, Pfizer in May quit its attempt to buy AstraZeneca after a final offer of roughly $119 billion in cash and stock was rejected.

So, for the moment, there's plenty of cash to keep that long stream of dividends flowing. Pfizer's payout currently clocks in at $0.26 per share for a yield of 3.5%. That's low compared to its two peers noted above, but the same could be said for Pfizer's payout ratio; its 31% is less than half that of both GlaxoSmithKline and PetMed Express.

Top dividend stocks for the next decade
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