Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) is the epitome of a blue-chip stock. It's the largest healthcare company in the world, with a market cap of more than $350 billion. J&J has been in business since Grover Cleveland was U.S. president. Many of the company's products are household names.
Pedigrees are one thing, but prospects are a totally different matter. Is Johnson & Johnson a stock to buy now? Here are some of the strongest arguments both for and against J&J -- and which side wins.
The case for Johnson & Johnson
Why buy Johnson & Johnson stock? For one thing, the company offers three different ways to profit from aging demographic trends that should drive healthcare demand for years to come. That's because J&J is a major player in three different healthcare markets: consumer, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals.
Another good reason to buy J&J is that the company is practically minting money. Over the last 12 months, it generated free cash flow of nearly $17.8 billion, and it uses the cash in several ways that reward investors. Not only does it pay a nice dividend, but the healthcare giant has also increased that dividend for 55 consecutive years.
Much of J&J's cash flow has also been invested to grow its business, including both internal investment and funding acquisitions. This has especially paid off for the pharmaceutical segment, which now claims six blockbuster drugs for which sales continue go grow. Four of those drugs saw double-digit percentage year-over-year sales growth in 2017.
The result of Johnson & Johnson using its cash to pay dividends and invest for future growth is a solid total shareholder return. Over the last five years, J&J's total shareholder return has been well over 90%.
The stock is also fairly resilient during economic downturns. For example, in 2008, the stock dropped only 10%, while the S&P 500 plunged nearly 39%. This resilience is largely due to the company's overall financial stability and products that are needed regardless of how the economy performs.
The case against Johnson & Johnson
Why should investors think twice before buying J&J stock? It's certainly not a good thing that sales are falling for the company's top-selling product. Remicade sales dropped more than 9% last year in the face of biosimilar competition. And J&J is being sued by Pfizer because of some of the practices it used to keep that decline from being even worse.
The consumer segment reported only anemic growth in 2017. Its medical device segment probably would have as well were it not for the positive impact of acquisitions. Even J&J's fastest-growing pharmaceutical segment wouldn't have looked nearly as good last year without the acquisition of Swiss drugmaker Actelion.
If you're looking for strong growth, J&J probably isn't the best choice. Wall Street projects average annual earnings growth from the company over the next five years of around 7.8%. That's not bad, but neither is it overly impressive.
And as solid as J&J's dividend is, there are higher yields to be found. Rival Pfizer, for example, pays a dividend which yields 3.74%.
Is it a buy?
In my view, the case for buying Johnson & Johnson stock is stronger than the case against it. Falling sales for Remicade will no doubt continue to hurt J&J, but the company has a good plan for growth despite the headwinds. While it's true that there are other stocks that can claim better growth prospects or better dividends, J&J's attraction is its total package. Johnson & Johnson should deliver decent growth and solid dividends, but with relatively lower risk than many other stocks.
Probably the most important thing for investors to consider before buying any stock is the long-term viability of the business. Johnson & Johnson excels on that front. The company has consistently developed and marketed products that meet customers' healthcare needs. It has used both internal and external innovation to do so. I don't see that changing. After all, Johnson & Johnson didn't become a blue-chip stock by accident.