As with almost every company and every investor nowadays, the economy is hurting Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). But, with health care being a near-necessity, it wasn't Johnson & Johnson's major problem in the first quarter. No, that pain came from currency changes and generic drugs, big factors in the company's 7.2% decrease in sales.

With nearly half of the health-care giant's sales coming from abroad and the dollar strengthening over much of the quarter, a full six percentage points of that 7.2% decline can be traced back to changes in currency.

The economy can't be overlooked completely, however. Demand for Band-Aids and over-the-counter medications, for instance, is somewhat elastic -- consumers can use less or switch to lower-priced competing products during bad times -- causing U.S. consumer health-care sales to fall 5.1% for the quarter. But it's the company's smallest unit, so the overall impact wasn't major.

The bigger problem was a nearly 10% decrease in sales of pharmaceutical drugs in the U.S. The generic competition facing antipsychotic Risperdal dragged sales down by 80% year over year. A weak flu season wasn't any help either, causing U.S. sales of bacteria killer Levaquin to drop 14%.

There were a few bright spots in Johnson & Johnson's drug arena. U.S. sales of rheumatoid arthritis treatment Remicade were up 9% -- not bad, considering Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT) posted just a 2% increase domestically for its competing anti-inflammatory Humira. But international sales of Remicade, handled by Schering-Plough (NYSE:SGP), were down more than 10%. Concerta, for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also brought a nice increase in sales.

Medical devices and diagnostics was the only division whose operational earnings were up year over year, but that was partially helped by the addition of breast-implant maker Mentor and Omrix Biopharmacueticals, both acquired recently. The added sales more than made up for falling sales of its drug-eluting stent, with new offerings by Abbott, Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX), and Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) continuing to make for ugly year-over-year comparisons.

While Johnson & Johnson is big, it has proven to be agile during the recession, and this quarter was no different. Cost-cutting and share repurchases helped the bottom line so that the decline in sales was offset, and it posted earnings per share equal to that of last year.

And that's really the take-home message for the quarter. Relatively stable earnings in a trying year and a hefty 3.6% dividend yield should make Johnson & Johnson a nice hold until the economy recovers.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.