Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) shareholders can't complain too much about the stock's performance in 2016. However, there's certainly room for improvement when a member of the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) trails the broader index's results -- as J&J did this year. Will 2017 bring more success for the healthcare giant? Perhaps, but Johnson & Johnson must navigate these three major risks.
One quite worrisome risk ahead of Johnson & Johnson is Pfizer's (NYSE:PFE) launch of a biosimilar to Remicade. The autoimmune disease drug is by far J&J's biggest moneymaker in its pharmaceutical lineup, generating sales of over $5.3 billion in the first nine months of 2016.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Celltrion's Remicade biosimilar, Inflectra, in April. J&J has been trying to prevent the biosimilar from being marketed through patent litigation. However, in August the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled that a key J&J patent for Remicade was invalid.
Pfizer owns exclusive U.S. marketing rights to Inflectra. The big drugmaker launched the biosimilar in late November. Although Johnson & Johnson continues to fight a legal battle to take Inflectra off the market, there's no guarantee that it will win. Introduction of the Remicade biosimilar in markets outside of the U.S. have already taken a bite out of J&J's sales.
Johnson & Johnson faced significant problems with currency fluctuations this year. During the first nine months of 2016, the company reported year-over-year sales growth of 2.9%. Were it not for the negative impact of currency fluctuations, that increase would have been 1.6% higher.
The problem this year wasn't in J&J's Asia Pacific and Africa regions, which didn't experience any real currency headwinds. However, the currency impact was severe in the Americas (excluding the U.S.), with an 11.7% negative impact on sales due to currency fluctuations. J&J also felt the negative effects in Europe, where sales were 2.4% lower because of foreign exchange rates.
It's impossible to know how significant the company's currency woes will be in 2017. There are simply too many variables that impact exchange rates. Because of its significant international presence, though, one thing is certain: Currency fluctuations will remain a key risk that could hurt J&J's results.
Potential trade war with China
Speaking of that major international presence, there's another big risk that Johnson & Johnson could face in 2017: a potential trade war with China. President-elect Donald Trump's phone call with Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen along with his tweets about China have raised concerns about the prospects of a trade war.
Should the U.S. and China get into an economic battle by raising tariffs or changing trade policies to the other nation's detriment, multinational companies, including Johnson & Johnson, could feel the brunt of the dispute. Although J&J doesn't break out its results for China, the company reported sales of $12.3 billion in 2015 from its Asia Pacific and Africa regions.
China has been important for several of J&J's products this year. In particular, the company credited the launch of Zytiga in China earlier this year as a key factor behind solid sales growth for the prostate cancer drug in the last quarter.
Of these three risks, I'd say the launch of the Remicade biosimilar is the scariest. If Pfizer is able to take away significant market share, it would make a big financial impact on Johnson & Johnson -- in 2017 and for years to come.
Currency fluctuations are just a cost that must be paid for doing business internationally. Some years are worse than others. While J&J could experience more currency pain next year, it's not something that investors would likely lose sleep over.
As for a potential trade war with China, who knows what will happen? A clash would hurt both countries, so there's reason to hope that the current tensions will ease.
Even with all of these risks, however, Johnson & Johnson remains one of the steadier stocks on the market. The company has been around for 130 years. It has racked up 32 consecutive years of adjusted earnings increases and 54 consecutive years of dividend increases. We'll probably be able to add a year to those totals in 2017. That's definitely not something shareholders will complain about.