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2 Best Pharma Stocks to Buy in May

By George Budwell - May 5, 2020 at 1:57PM

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AstraZeneca and Bristol Myers Squibb should both deliver outstandings returns for investors this month and beyond.

Picking individual stocks in this chaotic market isn't for the faint of heart. The COVID-19 pandemic has clouded the corporate earnings landscape for at least the remainder of the year, and this murky forecast could easily spill over into 2021. What's more, a number of vital industries may end up receiving unprecedented levels of state aid before everything is said and done. The struggling airline industry, in fact, is already being propped up by governments around the world.  

Are there any stocks worth buying in this exceedingly brutal market? Although there's no way to accurately predict when this rather surreal period in modern history will end, big pharma stocks AstraZeneca (AZN 3.08%) and Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY 1.49%) are two names that should be able to hold up even if this pandemic persists for another full year.

Here's why investors may want to buy these two big pharma stocks this month. 

A dollar sign made up of various colored pills

Image source: Getty Images.

AstraZeneca: Worth the price of admission 

Astra's shares are up by almost 37% over the prior 12-month period. Even more impressively, Astra's stock has managed to gain a respectable 5% so far this year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, by contrast, has dropped by nearly 17% during the same period. Astra has been able to swim against the current this year, in large part because of its top-notch clinical pipeline. 

During 2018, for instance, Astra won a whopping 23 regulatory approvals in the areas of cancer, cardiovascular, kidney, and metabolic disorders, and this is far from a comprehensive list. The net result is that the company now sports one of the most robust cancer franchises, a stellar respiratory franchise, and a well-rounded diabetes product portfolio. The best part, though, is that the drugmaker's pipeline is set to deliver several more late-stage data readouts over the course of the next 24 months. 

Because of all these new growth products and line extensions, Astra's top line is forecast to rise by an eye-catching 13.7% next year. That's one of the fastest projected growth rates in the realm of large-cap pharma companies at the moment. Better still, the company recently announced that it has no plans to revise its annual guidance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a testament to the economic staying power of its product portfolio.    

What's the risk? Astra's stock isn't exactly cheap, at 5.23 times projected 2020 sales. The market has definitely taken notice of Astra's super-charged sales growth and highly productive pipeline. But this big pharma stock has arguably earned its premium valuation. That said, Astra will probably need to continue having success in the clinic in order to maintain its top-shelf valuation.  

Bristol: A dirt-cheap big pharma

Bristol is perhaps the most compelling value play in the big pharma landscape right now. Its shares are trading at just three times 2021 estimated sales, which is well below average for its peer group. The surprising part is that the market has essentially ignored Bristol's string of major regulatory wins of late. As proof, Bristol's shares have lost over 6% of their value this year, despite multiple wins on the regulatory front. 

Specifically, the drugmaker recently got a green light from the FDA for its closely watched multiple sclerosis medicine Zeposia, along with two more regulatory approvals for blood disorder therapy Reblozyl. Both of these drugs should eventually become blockbuster-level products. What's more, Bristol is widely expected to break into the high-growth cell therapy space soon with ide-cel and liso-cel. So, there's a lot to like about Bristol's near-term outlook. 

Why are Bristol's shares so cheap if things are going so swimmingly? The long and short of it is that the market has been focused on the company's flagship immuno-oncology drug Opdivo -- to the detriment of its other growth products. Opdivo's sales have slowed in recent quarters, which has caused investors to cool their heels a bit.

The strange part is that Bristol is still forecast to post high single-digit sales growth in 2021 and beyond. So, there's definitely a case to be made that the market is making a mountain out of a molehill in regards to Opdivo's slowing growth. 

The bottom line is that Bristol's stock is clearly an underappreciated value play. Savvy investors, in turn, may want to take advantage of this valuation gap soon. 

George Budwell has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Bristol Myers Squibb. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Bristol Myers Squibb Company Stock Quote
Bristol Myers Squibb Company
BMY
$75.57 (1.49%) $1.11
AstraZeneca PLC Stock Quote
AstraZeneca PLC
AZN
$66.64 (3.08%) $1.99
Dow Jones Industrial Average (Price Return) Stock Quote
Dow Jones Industrial Average (Price Return)
^DJI
$33,761.05 (1.27%) $424.38

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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