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Better Coronavirus Stock: Abbott Labs vs. Gilead Sciences

By Keith Speights – Apr 2, 2020 at 6:05AM

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Their coronavirus programs are only part of the attraction for these two healthcare giants.

I'll admit that labeling Abbott Laboratories (ABT 0.40%) and Gilead Sciences (GILD 2.08%) as "coronavirus stocks" is kind of like calling Michael Jordan a once-aspiring minor league baseball player. The descriptions are technically accurate, but they leave out a lot.

However, it's fair to say that the coronavirus programs of Abbott Labs and Gilead Sciences have put both stocks on the forefront of investors' minds in recent weeks. Which of these two "coronavirus stocks" is the better choice for long-term investors? Here's how Abbott and Gilead stack up against each other.

COVID-19 printed against a blue background with small plastic balls representing the coronavirus

Image source: Getty Images.

The case for Abbott Labs

Abbott is poised to make a major difference in the fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The big healthcare company announced last week that it received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for a new COVID-19 test that can provide results in as little as five minutes.

The company's new COVID-19 test runs on its ID NOW platform, the most widely used point-of-care molecular testing platform in the U.S. Expect demand for Abbott's COVID-19 test -- and its ID NOW technology -- to soar over the next few weeks and months.

Sales are already soaring for one of Abbott's most important growth drivers. The company's Freestyle Libre continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system generated revenue of close to $2 billion, up 70% year over year. Growth should accelerate even more once Abbott wins FDA clearance for the next generation of the CGM system, which will support interoperability with other devices including insulin pumps.

Abbott Labs also continues to enjoy strong momentum for several other products in its lineup. The company's Alinity line of lab diagnostics systems has had a successful launch in Europe and will almost certainly be a big hit in the U.S. as additional assays are approved. Abbott's MitraClip device for mitral regurgitation (leaky heart valve) and its HeartMate 3 left ventricular assist device (LVAD) are also key to the company's growth.

Even with its shares down year to date due to the coronavirus-fueled market sell-off, Abbott's shares still trade at 21 times expected earnings. That's pricey in a market with plenty of stocks with lower valuations. However, Abbott's strong growth prospects make the stock attractive.

It also helps that Abbott boasts an exceptionally solid dividend program. The company has increased its dividend for a remarkable 48 consecutive years. Its dividend yield currently stands at close to 1.8%.

The case for Gilead Sciences

Gilead Sciences appears to be in the lead position in developing an effective treatment for COVID-19. Its antiviral drug remdesivir is in late-stage clinical studies. Demand has been so high for the experimental drug in treating patients with severe cases of COVID-19 under emergency-use provisions that the company had to stop accepting new requests for remdesivir with a few exceptions.

This overwhelming demand isn't surprising. World Health Organization (WHO) assistant director-general Bruce Aylward singled out remdesivir in late February as the most promising drug for treating COVID-19. Since then, Gilead and its experimental coronavirus drug have been featured by many news organizations, garnering a lot of favorable publicity.

But Gilead Sciences is best known for two other antiviral programs. The company has been a longtime leader in fighting HIV. Its newest drug in the franchise, Biktarvy, appears to be on track to become the biggest commercial success ever in treating HIV. Gilead also has made billions of dollars by curing hepatitis C in most patients taking its hep-C drugs. It's been so successful, in fact, that the company's revenue from those drugs has declined significantly in part because there are fewer patients to treat.

Gilead has also made its mark outside of the antiviral arena. The company is a leader in cancer cell therapy thanks to its acquisition of Kite Pharma in 2017. It could soon be a major player in the rheumatoid arthritis market, with potential blockbuster drug filgotinib awaiting regulatory approvals in the U.S. and in Europe.

While most stocks have plunged so far in 2020, Gilead's shares are up by a double-digit percentage. However, the stock still appears to be inexpensive with shares trading at less than 12 times expected earnings.

Most biotech stocks don't pay dividends. Gilead is a notable exception. The company boasts a juicy dividend yield of more than 3.7%. Since initiating its dividend program in 2015, Gilead has increased its dividend payout by 58%.

Better pick

I liked both of these stocks before the coronavirus pandemic and like them even more now. Which is the better pick? I think it depends on your investing style.

Investors who are more risk-averse will probably prefer Abbott Labs. It's a Dividend Aristocrat with solid growth prospects. However, more aggressive investors could find Gilead more to their liking. The biotech's pipeline could turbocharge growth over the next few years. This growth, combined with Gilead's dividend, should enable the stock to deliver market-beating total returns.

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

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Stocks Mentioned

Abbott Laboratories Stock Quote
Abbott Laboratories
$98.72 (0.40%) $0.39
Gilead Sciences, Inc. Stock Quote
Gilead Sciences, Inc.
$63.93 (2.08%) $1.30

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