There's no question that AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) shareholders have been happier campers than Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) shareholders in recent years. Whether you compare the two drug stocks over five years, three years, one year, or so far in 2017, AbbVie stock has outperformed Pfizer.

But, as the statements read on mutual fund, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Which stock is the better pick for long-term investors now? Here's how AbbVie and Pfizer compare. 

Two scientists in a lab, with the female scientist looking through a microscope

Image source: Getty Images.

The case for AbbVie

Investors have three major reasons to like AbbVie. One is the big biotech's dividend. AbbVie's dividend yield currently stands at 3.61%. What's even better, the company has increased its dividend by 60% since being spun off by Abbott Labs in 2013. Future dividend hikes seem likely, considering that AbbVie uses less than 60% of earnings to fund its dividend program.

Another big plus for AbbVie is its growth potential. Wall Street analysts project the company will be able to grow earnings by nearly 14% annually over the next few years. That estimate seems realistic. AbbVie's top-selling drug, Humira, continues to enjoy solid sales momentum. The company has a rising star in cancer drug Imbruvica. AbbVie also recently won Food and Drug Administration approval for Mavyret. The drug, which treats all genotypes of hepatitis C, should be a big winner for the biotech.

AbbVie's pipeline also should help drive growth. Market research firm EvaluatePharma ranked that pipeline third out of all big pharma companies. AbbVie has several candidates that could prove to be megablockbusters in a few years, including cancer drug Rova-T, autoimmune disease drug ABT-494, and Elagolix, which targets treatment of endometriosis and uterine fibroids.

The third big reason to like AbbVie is its valuation. AbbVie stock currently trades at less than 11 times expected earnings. Factoring in the biotech's growth prospects make AbbVie's valuation look even more attractive.

The case for Pfizer

If you like AbbVie's dividend, you'll probably love Pfizer's. The big pharma company's dividend currently yields 3.84%. And although Pfizer's payout ratio is a little high right now, the drugmaker's strong cash flow should mean those nice dividends keep on coming for a long time to come.

Pfizer isn't likely to enjoy the heady growth that AbbVie will in the near term. However, the consensus among Wall Street analysts is that the company will increase its earnings by close to 6% over the next five years. That's nearly twice the rate that Pfizer grew earnings over the past five years, a period in which the stock climbed more than 30%.

There are several reasons to expect good things for Pfizer in the future. The company's product lineup includes strong performers such as cancer drug Ibrance, anticoagulant Eliquis, and autoimmune disease drug Xeljanz. In addition, Pfizer's pipeline has 32 late-stage programs and several more awaiting regulatory approval, including potential big winners like cancer drug Bavencio, chronic pain drug tanezumab, and diabetes drug ertugliflozin.

Pfizer's valuation doesn't look too shabby, either. The stock currently trades at 12 times expected earnings.

Better buy

Now that you've heard the positives about both companies, you should also know about the negatives. For AbbVie, the primary concern relates to competition for Humira. A biosimilar to the drug has already been approved by the FDA. However, AbbVie thinks that its patent portfolio will enable to it to hold off U.S. competition through 2022. 

As for Pfizer, loss of exclusivity for multiple products is hurting the drugmaker and will continue to do so for a while. Pfizer is also encountering headwinds for its top-selling product, pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar 13.

With all the pros and cons weighed against each other, which stock is the better pick for long-term investors? I own both of them, but my view is that AbbVie is the winner. It's hard to beat AbbVie's triple whammy of great dividend, solid growth prospects, and attractive valuation. I still love Pfizer's dividend and think the stock is a good long-term pick, but AbbVie is the better buy.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.