What's the one thing that dividend-seeking investors value the most? Several answers could arguably be correct, but I suspect that the best answer of all is reliability. If you're looking for dividend stocks, you want their dividends to be reliable.
Several pharmaceutical stocks claim impressive track records of consistently paying and increasing dividends. Here's why Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT), AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV), Novo Nordisk (NYSE:NVO), and Novartis (NYSE:NVS) rank as the pharmaceutical stocks with the most reliable dividends, with Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) receiving an honorable mention.
Johnson & Johnson
Fifty-four years. That's how long Johnson & Johnson has increased its dividend, year in and year out. The Beatles hadn't even made it to America yet when J&J began this remarkable streak.
After all of this growth, Johnson & Johnson's dividend now yields 2.57%. Investors don't have to worry about J&J tarnishing its record, either. The company uses a little over half of its earnings to fund the dividend. That leaves plenty of room for more increases in the future.
Even though Johnson & Johnson isn't growing its earnings tremendously, the bottom line is nonetheless improving. The company's consumer and medical device segments aren't growing like J&J's pharmaceutical segment is. However, all three segments remain quite profitable and generate solid cash flow, which should allow dividend-seeking shareholders to sleep easy at night.
Abbott Laboratories and AbbVie
Abbott Laboratories and AbbVie are listed together, since they share so much history. Abbott spun off AbbVie in 2013. If we give AbbVie credit for the time that it was part of Abbott Labs, both companies have increased their dividends for 44 years in a row.
Abbott's dividend yield currently stands at 2.38%, while AbbVie claims an impressive yield of 3.94%. Although Abbott spent more on dividends last year than it made in profits, the company's cash flow remains strong, so its dividend shouldn't be in jeopardy anytime soon. As for AbbVie, the biotech used roughly 63% of its earnings to fund its dividend program.
Both companies should also grow earnings in the future. Abbott's focus is more on medical devices than pharmaceuticals. The company's acquisition of St. Jude Medical could fuel more growth. While AbbVie faces some uncertainty related to biosimilar challengers to top-selling Humira, the company claims a couple of impressive cancer drugs (Imbruvica and Venclexta) and multiple pipeline candidates with strong potential, including elagolix and Rova-T.
Novo Nordisk and Novartis
Novo Nordisk and Novartis have both steadily grown their dividends for 20 years in a row. While the two drugmakers tie in terms of the number of consecutive dividend increases, Novo Nordisk wins the prize for the biggest increase during that period.
Novo Nordisk's dividend yield now stands at 3.25%, while Novartis' yield is 3.69%. Although both companies should be able to continue paying and raising dividends, Novo Nordisk seems to be in better position to do so. The company used around 62% of its earnings last year to fund the dividend, while Novartis used 95% of its earnings to pay out dividends.
The situation could improve for Novartis, however. With more than 200 clinical programs in its pipeline, the Swiss pharmaceutical company appears to be poised to grow earnings despite facing loss of patent exclusivity for several key drugs. Novo Nordisk doesn't claim nearly as large of a pipeline, but the company's problems aren't as big as those Novartis must address.
Eli Lilly doesn't have the long track record of increasing its dividends like these other drugmakers do. However, Lilly certainly deserves an honorable mention for sheer longevity of its dividend program. The company paid out its first dividend way back in 1885 and has paid dividends in every year since then.
Lilly's dividend currently yields a respectable 2.46%. Although Lilly, like Novartis, faces loss of patent exclusivity for some of its top drugs in the next few years, the company should be in good shape to keep the dividends flowing for a long time to come. A sesquicentennial celebration of Lilly's dividend could very well be in store in a few years.