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3 Top Big Pharma Stocks to Buy Now

By Keith Speights - Updated Sep 6, 2018 at 8:51AM

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Great dividends and great growth prospects make these big pharma stocks great picks for long-term investors.

Some people stick the word "big" in front of an industry name in an effort to disparage the largest players in that particular market. When I use the term "big pharma," though, I'm not intending to be derogatory. My use of the label is to simply refer to the biggest drugmakers on the market.

I think there are three big pharma stocks that investors definitely shouldn't disparage. AbbVie (ABBV 0.40%), Gilead Sciences (GILD 0.24%), and Pfizer (PFE 1.17%) look like really good picks for the long run. Here's why these are three top big pharma stocks you can buy now.

Scientist wearing a mask and holding a test tube with healthcare icons displayed in foreground.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. AbbVie

There are two things that investors especially want when they buy a big pharma stock -- growth and dividends. AbbVie delivers on both very well.

The company should be able to generate double-digit-percentage growth for years to come. Although AbbVie's top-selling drug, Humira, faces competition from biosimilars in Europe in the fourth quarter, the drug should preserve its U.S. position through early 2023. Market research firm EvaluatePharma projects that Humira will remain the No. 1 best-selling drug in the world at least through 2024. 

Meanwhile, AbbVie has plenty of other arrows in its quiver. Cancer drug Imbruvica continues to enjoy strong sales momentum. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) drug Mavyret should become AbbVie's latest blockbuster when the company reports its Q3 results. Recently approved endometriosis drug Orilissa has tremendous potential, as does cancer drug Venclexta. In addition to its strong current lineup, AbbVie's pipeline looks very promising, with immunology drugs risankizumab and upadacitinib especially standing out.

AbbVie's dividend is just as impressive. Its dividend yield stands just under 4%. Over the last five years, AbbVie has boosted its dividend by a whopping 140%.

2. Gilead Sciences

How does Gilead Sciences fare in the categories of growth and dividends? Its dividend yield of a little more than 3% looks really good. Although Gilead didn't initiate a dividend program until 2015, the company has increased its payout by nearly 33% since then.

Growth is a different story, though. Slumping sales for its HCV drugs have pulled down Gilead's total revenue and earnings. There are now fewer patients with hepatitis C thanks to the efficacy of drugs marketed by Gilead and a few of its peers. It's now pretty much a one-on-one battle between Gilead and AbbVie for market share. 

However, Gilead's HCV sales appear to be stabilizing. Even better, the company's new HIV drug, Biktarvy, is quickly becoming a huge success story. Gilead's other Descovy-based HIV drugs also continue to generate impressive sales growth. Yescarta is slowly but surely establishing itself as the leading cancer cell therapy. 

Gilead's pipeline is also underrated, in my view. The company hopes to file for approval for filgotinib in treating rheumatoid arthritis next year. I expect the drug will give Gilead a new blockbuster franchise in immunology. Gilead is also poised to become a leader in treating nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), an indication that some think will be a $35 billion market

3. Pfizer

Pfizer is certainly no slouch in the dividend department. The big drugmaker's dividend currently yields 3.28%. Pfizer has paid a dividend for 319 consecutive quarters.

However, the company has struggled in recent years in generating solid revenue and earnings growth. One major factor holding Pfizer back has been several drugs losing patent exclusivity. Pfizer has also been hurt by continuing product shortages with its sterile injectables business.

The good news is that Pfizer should move past both of these issues. Although Pfizer will feel the sting of the loss of exclusivity for Lyrica later this year, the company expects that declining sales for its older drugs won't weigh on its growth after 2020. Pfizer won't have to wait that long for improvement in its sterile injectables business. The company thinks that year-over-year comparisons for this unit will pick up beginning in Q3.

Pfizer CEO Ian Read stated in the company's second-quarter conference call that its pipeline is stronger than it's been in decades. That's no exaggeration. Pfizer's pipeline includes multiple potential winners, notably including pain drug tanezumab and rare-disease drug tafamidis.

Best of the best

I like all three of these big pharma stocks so much that I own all three of them. Which is the best of the group? I think the honor goes to AbbVie.

AbbVie pays the highest dividend yield of the three. It also has the clearest pathway to growth. Also, the stock's forward earnings multiple of 10.6 is most attractive. I think long-term investors should win with all three of these top big pharma stocks, but if you could only buy one of them, my view is to go with AbbVie.

Keith Speights owns shares of AbbVie, Gilead Sciences, and Pfizer. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Gilead Sciences. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

AbbVie Inc. Stock Quote
AbbVie Inc.
$141.85 (0.40%) $0.56
Pfizer Inc. Stock Quote
Pfizer Inc.
$49.15 (1.17%) $0.57
Gilead Sciences, Inc. Stock Quote
Gilead Sciences, Inc.
$65.34 (0.24%) $0.16

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