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Better Coronavirus Stock: Eli Lilly or AbbVie?

By Rachel Warren – Jul 3, 2020 at 8:07AM

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Both of these stocks have strong growth potential.

Over the past several months, the coronavirus stock market has proven nerve-wracking for even the most seasoned of investors. We are living in unprecedented times. But the basic rules of investing haven't changed, and there are still worthwhile investment opportunities to be found.

Eli Lilly (LLY 0.04%) is a veteran in the pharmaceutical community and has been in business for over 140 years. AbbVie (ABBV 0.39%) is a relative newcomer and was established back in 2013 after spinning off parent organization Abbott Laboratories. Both companies have been resilient overall amid the tumult of the current recession. I would also add that each carries the possibility of strong returns for dividend investors with a long-term buying focus. But which is the better buy?

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The case for Eli Lilly

Last year was a good one for Eli Lilly. The company experienced a 4% boost in revenue in 2019, amassing total earnings of $22.3 billion. Eli Lilly entered 2020 from a position of strength, fueled largely by booming sales of some of its anti-diabetic and immunologic drugs.

The company's blockbuster type 2 diabetes medication Trulicity accumulated over $4 billion in sales in 2019. Taltz, a biologic injection medication for individuals suffering from mild to severe plaque psoriasis, accounted for more than $1 billion of Eli Lilly's revenue last year. Another key 2019 revenue driver was the company's chemotherapy medicine Cyramza. Global sales of the drug surpassed $925 million.

In the first quarter of this year, the company's earnings were up by 15% compared to the prior-year period. Along with increased consumer and prescription demand due to the coronavirus, the company attributed much of its year-over-year growth to blockbuster drugs like Trulicity, Taltz, and Cyramza.

Migraine medicine Emgality and diabetes drug Baqsimi were two other dependable revenue sources for Eli Lilly in Q1 2020. Emgality produced $74 million in global sales for Eli Lilly in the fist quarter, almost $8 million more than worldwide sales of the drug in the previous quarter. Eli Lilly closed its acquisition of biopharmaceutical company Dermira in Q1, which brought new immunologic and dermatology drugs into its ever-expanding portfolio.

Eli Lilly has also made headlines for its continued efforts in the COVID-19 treatment space. The company is running phase 1 human trials of separate potential antibody treatments with its biotech partners Junshi Biosciences and AbCellera. On June 15, Eli Lilly announced that it had commenced a phase 3 clinical trial of its rheumatoid arthritis drug Baricitinib on hospitalized coronavirus patients. The company intends to conduct the study on 400 patients, with results to follow in a matter of months.

The case for AbbVie

AbbVie is one of those blue chip stocks that keeps investors coming back for more. Its ongoing strong performance is due in large part to its blockbuster arthritis drug Humira. In 2019, sales of Humira reached nearly $15 billion in the United States alone. Outside of the U.S., Humira sales were north of $4 billion in 2019. AbbVie's full-year 2019 revenue across all drug segments totaled approximately $33 billion, so Humira was responsible for roughly 60% of AbbVie's total net revenue last year.

Two other key takeaways from AbbVie's 2019 earnings report regarded its recent launches of rheumatoid arthritis drug Rinvoq and plaque psoriasis medicine Skyrizi. Worldwide Rinvoq revenue totaled $47 million in 2019, while total net sales of Skyrizi were $355 million. The company projects that Rinvoq and Skyrizi revenue together could be close to $2 billion this year.

AbbVie's Q1 2020 revenue was up about 10% from Q1 2019 at $8.6 billion. Domestic Humira revenue was up nearly 14% at $3.7 billion, while sales of the drug outside the U.S. were down nearly 15% at about $1 billion. Worldwide sales of Skyrizi and Rinvoq were $300 million and $86 million, respectively. The company updated its expected guidance for GAAP earnings-per-share for 2020 to hit somewhere between $7.60 and $7.70, as opposed to its previous projections of $7.66 to $7.76.

The company's acquisition of Allergan, which concluded in May, and a new oncology collaboration with Danish biotech Genmab (GMAB -0.84%) announced in June are two key victories in AbbVie's ongoing diversification strategy. AbbVie anticipates that the combination of Allergan's product portfolio with its existing product lineup could propel 2020 revenue to reach $50 billion. AbbVie and Genmab will work together on three prospective antibody products, as well as potential antibody cancer therapies. AbbVie paid $750 million to Genmab right out of the gate, with additional installments of up to $3.15 billion to follow.

AbbVie is also contributing to the battle against COVID-19. The company donated doses of its HIV drug Aluvia to the Chinese government as a prospective coronavirus treatment and is engaging in various research initiatives with organizations such as the CDC and FDA to analyze the drug's success in fighting the disease. 

To buy or not to buy 

In my opinion, both stocks have strong growth potential. Investors seeking higher dividend earnings may find AbbVie's nearly-5% payout much more attractive than Eli Lilly's modest 1.8% yield. The most obvious concern with AbbVie is its continued reliance on Humira to fuel future growth, although its collaboration with Genmab and the acquisition of Allergan are definitely good news that the company is seeking to diversify. 

On the other hand, Eli Lilly has a long and dependable history with a versatile portfolio of successful products to its name. While its dividend payout may be lower, risk-averse investors may find that this stock is the better buy.

Rachel Warren has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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