Looking for a stock that offers an above average dividend fueled by double-digit profit growth year after successful year? 

AbbVie, Inc. (NYSE:ABBV) has already ticked those boxes and looks set to do it again. Dividend investors who have been kicking themselves for avoiding the stock's debut might want to take another look at the drugmaker.

AbbVie's dividend offers an above-average 2.4% yield at the moment, plus management just laid out some big reasons investors can look forward to rapid profit growth in 2018 and sustainable gains in the years ahead. Here's what to look out for.

Drawing of paper airplane rising over 2018.

Image source: Getty Images.

Raising expectations

Savings associated with tax reforms are expected to be a huge boost to AbbVie's bottom line in 2018. In fact, management recently boosted the low end of its adjusted earnings expectations for all of 2018 about 15% higher to $7.33 per share.

Although the company will book a net charge that works out to $0.77 per share related to tax reform in 2017, AbbVie will save heaps. The company's effective tax rate has hovered between 22% and 27% over the past few years. Management expects that rate to fall to 9% in 2018, and then slowly rise to 13% over the several years.

Achieving such a low effective tax rate in 2018 would leave the company with a lot more profit to spread around to shareholders. During the 12 months ended last September, the company used just 60% of after-tax profits to make dividend payments.

During the fourth-quarter earnings call, management reiterated that cash flows are indeed outpacing opportunities for investment and a proposal for returning that cash to shareholders is in the works. Look for news of big share repurchases and dividend boosts following an important board meeting in February. 

Blister pack full of dollar signs instead of pills.

Image source: Getty Images.

Big catalysts on the way

AbbVie is a big company and it takes a lot to move its needle. That said, some important announcements in 2018 could push the stock up a few notches.

The "Trinity" study is testing Rova-T as a potential treatment for small-cell lung cancer and is expected to produce a result in the second quarter. AbbVie paid $5.8 billion upfront to get its hands on the cancer drug candidate, but early survival data from a smaller trial with similar patients underwhelmed.

While the Rova-T program tries to redeem itself, recently launched Venclexta continues firing on all cylinders and could get another boost soon. AbbVie markets the drug in partnership with Roche (OTC:RHHBY), and it looks like a combination of the Swiss pharma's Rituxan and Venclexta could be the next big thing for advanced-stage patients with the most common form of leukemia.

The necessary application is in front of the FDA, and we should hear back from the agency in the first half of 2018. During a trial supporting the application, investigators couldn't detect disease activity in 84.9% of patients treated with the combo therapy versus just 23.1% among those given standard drugs. With results this strong, plus a previous approval, this label expansion seems like a slam dunk.

The FDA approved Venclexta for a much smaller, genetically defined group of leukemia patients less than a year ago. An expansion to a much larger population is just what it needs to reach peak annual sales estimates that top out around $2 billion.

What competition?

Trial results, potential new drug launches, and label expansions have set AbbVie up for growth in the years ahead. What truly makes this a great stock to own right now, though, is management's uncanny ability to protect Humira's market share.

It's been over a year since the FDA approved a lower cost, biosimilar version of Humira, AbbVie's flagship anti-inflammatory drug. Don't ask your doctor to prescribe Amjevita, though: Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) recently agreed not to launch its version of Humira in the U.S. until 2023. Keeping biosimilar competition at bay is a big reason global Humira sales surged 14.6% higher in 2017 and are expected to climb by a double-digit percentage again in 2018.

Developing new drug candidates, and expanding existing drugs to larger indications involves a great deal of uncertainty. There aren't any guarantees AbbVie will be able to defend Humira's existing market share either. After getting Amgen to back off, though, I'd say there's a solid chance Humira sales will exceed $20 billion this year. That would give the company a ton of cash to distribute in the quarters ahead, which makes it a great dividend stock to own right now. 

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.