It's hard to keep track of all of the companies developing drug candidates, experimental vaccines, and diagnostics tests focused on fighting COVID-19. They include several large drugmakers and medical-device makers plus a lot of small biotechs and other small healthcare companies.
Not all of the stocks of the publicly traded companies with COVID-19 programs are great picks for investors, though. Some are way too risky. Others aren't as risky but don't offer attractive growth prospects. If you're looking for the least risky solid-growth coronavirus stock to buy, I think there's one that stands above all the rest: Abbott Laboratories (ABT -1.56%).
Yes, Abbott Labs is 132 years old. But that doesn't disqualify the well-established company from delivering solid growth.
Don't just take my word that Abbott has solid growth potential. The consensus among Wall Street analysts is that the healthcare giant will be able to deliver double-digit-percentage annual earnings growth over the next five years. Add in Abbott's dividend (which currently yields north of 1.4%) and you're likely looking at total returns that should handily beat the overall market.
What's going to drive Abbott's growth over the next few years? Several products. The company markets COVID-19 tests across five diagnostic platforms. As of July 17, Abbott had shipped more than 22 million COVID-19 tests. Expect continued strong demand at least through 2021.
Even after the COVID-19 pandemic fades away, the underlying platforms that Abbott's COVID-19 tests run on should generate long-term growth. Abbott's Alinity family of diagnostic systems, in particular, has been a big winner in the past and continues to have strong growth prospects in the U.S. and other major markets.
Abbott's MitraClip device for repairing leaky heart valves is another key growth driver. The company received FDA approval on July 15 for a next-generation version of MitraClip. This new version should boost Abbott's sales.
Arguably the most important product for Abbott's growth, though, is the Freestyle Libre continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system. After a lengthy wait, last month the FDA cleared a new version of the CGM system that offers integration capabilities with other systems such as insulin pumps.
You can certainly find other coronavirus stocks that could deliver greater growth than Abbott Labs. However, those stocks will also almost certainly be a lot riskier than Abbott.
For example, some on the list will be small biotechs with no products yet on the market. If their COVID-19 drug candidates or vaccine candidates flop in clinical testing, their share prices will implode. Even big pharma companies with coronavirus-focused programs face risks of failure with their pipeline candidates (and not just the candidates that target COVID-19).
Abbott, on the other hand, is largely derisked. The company isn't hoping to launch those products mentioned earlier that should be growth drivers; they're all on the market right now.
Nearly everything about Abbott screams "low risk." As previously noted, the company has managed to survive and thrive for 132 years. Abbott is a Dividend Aristocrat with 48 consecutive years of dividend increases. It's the global market leader in multiple areas. Abbott ranked on Fortune's Most Admired Companies list every year since 1984 and took the No. 1 spot in the medical products category over the last seven years.
It also helps that Abbott's financial position remains very strong. The company's balance sheet is solid. Abbott raked in $31.9 billion in sales last year with profits of more than $3.1 billion.
But not no-risk
While Abbott is a low-risk stock, it's not a no-risk stock. Such an animal doesn't exist. Abbott could still run into problems with products that are currently in development that could negatively impact its future growth prospects.
As we saw earlier this year, Abbott isn't immune to overall stock market meltdowns. The healthcare giant's shares fell by nearly 32% during the coronavirus-fueled market crash in February and March. However, Abbott also bounced back more than many stocks did.
You won't find a perfect stock. But among the stocks of companies with COVID-19 programs, I don't think there's a better low-risk, solid-growth stock on the market right now than Abbott Labs.