I don't care that Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) has lagged the market in recent years. And neither should you -- at least not if you're a long-term investor.
Looking in the rearview mirror too much can be hazardous to both drivers and investors. That's because the road ahead can be much different than the road already traveled. I believe that Pfizer's future prospects look much better than its performance over the past several years.
My view is that Pfizer ranks among the best big pharma stocks for long-term investors to buy right now. Here are three reasons why.
1. Anchors aweigh
A quick glance at Pfizer's Q1 results reveals two problematic areas for the company: legacy drugs and sterile injectables. Both businesses are part of Pfizer's essential health segment. Both also are like anchors weighing down the company's ability to move forward. But like the lyrics in the Navy fight song state, I think it will soon be "anchors aweigh" for Pfizer.
Pfizer fully expects that the negative impact from its older drugs that have lost exclusivity will steadily decline over the next few years. I think of this in a similar way as depreciation of a car. After buying a car, you lose the most value due to depreciation in the first few years. After a while, though, the lost value each year doesn't hurt nearly as much. Pfizer should experience a similar effect with its legacy drugs.
The company's sterile injectables business has been hampered by product shortages. Pfizer should make a lot of progress resolving these issues in 2018. I see this as only a temporary challenge that once resolved, sets the business up for nice growth.
Also, while Pfizer's consumer healthcare unit hasn't been a big drag for the company, it hasn't been a major driver of growth, either. Pfizer is looking at selling or spinning off the business and anticipates announcing a decision later this year. Either of these moves would benefit investors, in my opinion.
2. The fast-growing four -- and more
As the headwinds for its essential health segment subside, Pfizer's fast-growing products should shine even brighter than they do now. There are four currently approved products that I think will enjoy especially strong momentum.
At the top of the list is Ibrance. Sales for the cancer drug topped $3.1 billion last year. Market research firm EvaluatePharma projects Ibrance will reach sales of over $7 billion by 2022. Even if that estimate is overly optimistic, Pfizer should see strong growth for the drug for years to come.
Next up is Eliquis. Sales for the anticoagulant drug are growing nearly as fast as they are for Ibrance. Xeljanz, which is approved for treating psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis, isn't far behind Eliquis in percentage year-over-year growth. It competes in a crowded market, but I still think Xeljanz will keep chugging along.
The fourth drug on my list -- Steglatro -- didn't even show up in Pfizer's Q1 results. The type 2 diabetes drug, which Pfizer co-markets with Merck, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2017. Steglatro, along with its combination products Steglujan and Segluromet, should become yet another blockbuster for Pfizer.
I also think more big winners will be on the way. Pfizer boasts a deep pipeline with 29 late-stage programs. I like the prospects for several of the company's oncology and rare disease candidates, plus its promising pain drug tanezumab, which is being co-developed with Eli Lilly.
3. That fantastic dividend
There's no way we can leave out Pfizer's fantastic dividend, which yields more than 3.8% right now. I suspect the yield could decline over the next few years -- but not because Pfizer will reduce its dividend payout. Instead, my view is that the stock could go up faster than the company's dividend hikes, resulting in a lower yield.
Don't get me wrong, though. I think Pfizer will boost its dividend regularly. Over the last five years, the company has increased its dividend by nearly 42%. My hunch is that's the kind of dividend growth we'll see in the future.
Long-term investors shouldn't discount how important Pfizer's dividend is. Over the last 10 years, Pfizer stock gained 87%. But its total return, which includes dividends, was nearly 180% during the period.
Twists and turns
There are always unexpected twists and turns in investing, especially in drug stocks. Pipeline failures could damage Pfizer's prospects. New competitors could enter the market that hurt current top-selling drugs.
However, Pfizer could just as easily benefit from developments that we can't anticipate now. The company could make a smart acquisition that gives it a solid growth engine. Experimental drugs that are in earlier clinical stages could turn into greater success stories than anyone expected.
But sitting where we are today, I think Pfizer is in a better position than it's been in a while to see market-beating total returns over a five- to 10-year window. In my view, now is a pretty good time for investors with a long-term perspective to buy this big pharma stock.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Xeljanz is approved for psoriasis. The Fool regrets the error.