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Pfizer's Paying $2.3 Billion Again? Oh, Wait, Never Mind.

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It's a really slow news day. You can tell because there are 17 articles on the Yahoo! Finance ticker feed announcing or discussing the $2.3 billion settlement Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) made with the Department of Justice.

I know what you're thinking: $2.3 billion is a lot of money, even for a company that brought in more than $16 billion in free cash flow over the past 12 months. But this isn't news -- even if the folks at the Department of Justice want their TV face time by holding a press conference announcing the big win.

You see, Pfizer took the charge for the settlement in the fourth quarter of last year. You're excused if you missed that news, because Pfizer announced fourth-quarter earnings on the same day as its acquisition of Wyeth (NYSE: WYE  ) .

The company did announce a new $33 million settlement with 42 states and the District of Columbia to settle accusations of inappropriately marketing its antipsychotic Geodon. But that charge, which will be taken in the third quarter, just doesn't have the same ring as "$2.3 billion."

Unfortunately for drug companies and their investors, the Department of Justice has been cracking down hard on the marketing of drugs. Doctors are generally allowed to prescribe a drug for any disease they see fit, even if that disease isn't on the label, but drugmakers are allowed to market the drugs only for diseases approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Cross the line, and the Department of Justice will come after you.

In addition to Pfizer, Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY  ) , Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) and Cephalon (Nasdaq: CEPH  ) have all paid settlements after Department of Justice investigations. Even Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) , with its goody-two-shoes aura, has come under investigation.

The Foolish message here is that trading the news is rarely a good idea. Take your time to get past the headline and digest the news, and you might find that what you're reading isn't as bad as it first appears.

Pfizer is a recommendation of the Inside Value newsletter service. If you're interested in picking through the wreckage for possible turnaround candidates, you should have the Inside Valueteam on your side. Check it out for free with a 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Johnson & Johnson is a selection of the Income Investor newsletter. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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10/20/2016 4:00 PM
PFE $32.54 Down -0.06 -0.18%
Pfizer CAPS Rating: ****
CEPH $0.00 Down +0.00 +0.00%
Cephalon, Inc. CAPS Rating: ****
JNJ $114.87 Up +0.28 +0.24%
Johnson and Johnso… CAPS Rating: ****
LLY $78.74 Up +0.18 +0.23%
Eli Lilly and Co. CAPS Rating: ***
MRK $61.92 Up +0.05 +0.08%
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WYE.DL $0.00 Down +0.00 +0.00%
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