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Better Coronavirus Stock: Johnson & Johnson or Emergent BioSolutions?

By Keith Speights – May 16, 2020 at 6:33AM

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Which of these COVID-19 partners is the better pick? Here's how J&J and Emergent stack up against each other.

Any list of companies in the thick of the battle against novel coronavirus disease COVID-19 absolutely needs to include Johnson & Johnson (JNJ -1.94%) and Emergent BioSolutions (EBS -0.77%). Johnson & Johnson is the largest healthcare company in the world with tremendous resources. Emergent BioSolutions ranks as arguably the top biotech focused on public health threats.

Emergent BioSolutions has been the bigger winner so far in 2020. Is shares have soared close to 50%, while J&J's share price is nearly where it was at the start of the year. But which of these coronavirus-focused stocks is the better pick for long-term investors?

Hands holding a small globe with a mask on it with "coronavirus" written on the mask

Image source: Getty Images.

The case for Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson made a big splash in March with its commitment to invest, along with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), more than $1 billion to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. The big healthcare company isn't just developing a vaccine candidate; it's also cranking up manufacturing capacity to produce the vaccine even before it's been tested.

J&J's COVID-19 vaccine is scheduled to advance to clinical trials by September. If all goes well, the vaccine could be available for emergency use authorization by early 2021. In the meantime, J&J's scientists are exploring the potential for existing drugs to treat COVID-19. The company has dampened hopes that one of its drugs, HIV therapy Prezista, could be effective at treating the disease, though. 

Of course, a company the size of Johnson & Johnson has a lot more going on than just its coronavirus efforts. One of the main reasons that the stock has been a favorite among investors for a long time is its diversification across the healthcare sector. J&J has three business segments focused on large healthcare markets in consumer health, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals.

The company's pharmaceutical segment is its biggest growth driver. This segment markets successful products including immunology drugs Stelara and Tremfya, cancer drugs Darzalex and Imbruvica, and pulmonary hypertension drugs Opsumit and Uptravi.

Its other two segments are also multibillion-dollar businesses, though. J&J's consumer products include a long list of household names such as Band-Aid, Listerine, Motrin, and Tylenol. Its medical device segment sells a wide range of products including contact lenses, hip and knee replacement devices, and surgical systems.

Another major plus for Johnson & Johnson is its dividend. The company is a Dividend Aristocrat with 58 consecutive years of dividend increases. J&J's dividend currently yields 2.75%.

The case for Emergent BioSolutions

One of the companies that Johnson & Johnson has partnered with to produce its COVID-19 vaccine is none other than Emergent BioSolutions. And J&J isn't the only drugmaker to knock on Emergent BioSolutions' door. Novavax and Vaxart also tapped the company to manufacture their COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

But Emergent isn't just helping other companies; it's busy developing potential COVID-19 therapies of its own. In April, the biotech received a $14.5 million grant from BARDA to develop a plasma-derived therapy for treating COVID-19. The idea behind this approach is to use antibodies in plasma obtained from patients who have recovered from the novel coronavirus disease to develop treatments for COVID-19 patients who haven't recovered.

Emergent is no stranger to developing vaccines and therapies to combat deadly viruses. Its ACAM2000 vaccine is the only single-dose smallpox vaccine approved by the FDA for vaccinating individuals with a high risk for smallpox infection. The company's VIGIV product is the only polyclonal antibody therapy approved in the U.S. and Canada to treat some severe complications resulting from smallpox vaccination.

Viruses aren't the only causes of infectious diseases. Emergent has been highly successful in tackling bacterial diseases including anthrax, cholera, and typhoid.

The company's biggest customer by far is the U.S. government, which accounted for 45% of Emergent's total revenue in the first quarter. While a heavy dependence on one customer usually isn't a good thing, it hasn't been a big problem for Emergent. 

Wall Street analysts project that Emergent will increase its earnings by an average of more than 9% annually over the next five years. That's nearly double the expected earnings growth for J&J during the same period. With the heightened worries about the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems quite possible that Emergent will surpass analysts' expectations.

Better coronavirus stock

I like both of these stocks -- and not just for their coronavirus programs. If I had to pick only one of them, though, it would be Johnson & Johnson.

There aren't many stocks on the market with the long track of record of success that J&J boasts. Past success doesn't necessarily translate to future success, but J&J has the financial strength and a massive research and development infrastructure that should enable it to keep up its winning ways over the long run. Its diversification also makes the stock less risky than many other stocks. 

Keith Speights has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Emergent BioSolutions. The Motley Fool recommends Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Johnson & Johnson Stock Quote
Johnson & Johnson
$161.91 (-1.94%) $-3.20
Emergent BioSolutions Stock Quote
Emergent BioSolutions
$20.68 (-0.77%) $0.16

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