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Better Dividend Stock: AbbVie or Pfizer?

By Keith Speights - May 8, 2021 at 6:04AM

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Both big pharmaceutical companies have a lot to offer income investors.

If you're looking for stocks with juicy dividends, you'll want to put AbbVie (ABBV 0.40%) and Pfizer (PFE 1.17%) near the top of your watch list. Both rank among the world's biggest drugmakers. And they offer two of the most attractive dividends you'll find, especially in the healthcare sector.

But which of these two is the better dividend stock? Here's how AbbVie and Pfizer stack up against each other.

A man in a suit jacket and tie, holding out his hands palms up, with a green dollar sign over one and a red dollar sign over the other.

Image source: Getty Images.

Going by the numbers

If this were a decision made solely based on dividend yields, AbbVie would win easily. At their current share prices, AbbVie yields nearly 4.5%, well above Pfizer's dividend yield of 3.9%.

On the other hand, the tables are turned if we compare the two drugmakers' payout ratios -- the percentage of a company's earnings that it dedicates to paying its dividend. AbbVie's payout ratio stands at nearly 180%, while Pfizer's is a little under 103%.

Personally, I don't like gauging stocks based on the payout ratio metric. My view is that it doesn't always provide a good picture of a company's ability to continue funding its dividends. Case in point: Based on the fact that both of their payout ratios exceed 100%, you might think that neither AbbVie nor Pfizer will be able to keep distributing dividends at their current levels. That's not the case.

Both pharmaceutical giants generate plenty of cash flow to keep the dividends flowing. It's likely that they'll keep them growing, too. AbbVie has earned a place on the Dividend Aristocrats listwith 49 consecutive years of payout increases. And while Pfizer isn't a member of that exclusive club, it has boosted its dividend every year since 2009. The management teams of both drugmakers appear to be fully supportive of continuing their dividend-hike streaks.

The harder comparisons

Even income investors like the stocks they buy to deliver growth too. Comparing the growth prospects for AbbVie and Pfizer is a harder task than weighing their dividends against each other, though.

AbbVie faces the loss of U.S. patent exclusivity for its top-selling drug, Humira, in 2023. The company expects that this will cause its total sales to fall temporarily. However, management projects a return to modest revenue growth in 2024, with annualized growth rates in the high single-digit percentages throughout the rest of this decade.

Pfizer forecasts annualized revenue growth of 6% on a risk-adjusted basis through 2025. This estimate doesn't include sales of the company's COVID-19 vaccine, though. The vaccine is on track to generate sales of at least $26 billion in 2021, with Pfizer splitting the profits equally with its partner, BioNTech. Next year could be even better: Pfizer and BioNTech should soon ink a deal with the European Union to supply up to 1.8 billion doses of their COVID-19 vaccine through 2023.

The problem in projecting growth for either company is that there's a lot of uncertainty about some of their revenue sources. AbbVie is counting on winning approval for its new autoimmune-disease drugs to be used in new indications; those added sales would help to offset Humira's anticipated sales decline. Pfizer thinks that recurring sales for its COVID-19 vaccine will remain strong after the pandemic is brought under control, under the theory that the coronavirus will continue to circulate as a health threat, but there's no way to be sure of that at this point.

Better dividend stock?

There's one other key factor that we haven't considered yet -- valuation. Both of these pharma stocks are relatively inexpensive, but AbbVie appears to be dirt cheap. Its shares currently trade at around 9.3 times expected earnings. Pfizer's forward earnings multiple is 12.5.

My view is that AbbVie is the better dividend stock, and its attractive valuation is the icing on the cake. I think that AbbVie will continue to increase its dividend each year, even when Humira's sales start to drop in 2023. And while my hunch is that Pfizer will deliver stronger growth over the next five to 10 years, I expect that AbbVie will grow at a pace that income-seeking investors will be happy with.

I own both of these stocks and think both remain good picks. If dividends are your main focus, though, AbbVie is the one I'd choose.

Keith Speights owns shares of AbbVie and Pfizer. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

AbbVie Inc. Stock Quote
AbbVie Inc.
$141.85 (0.40%) $0.56
Pfizer Inc. Stock Quote
Pfizer Inc.
$49.15 (1.17%) $0.57
BioNTech SE Stock Quote
BioNTech SE
$147.92 (0.21%) $0.31

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