Some investors got just what the doctor ordered today. Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) reported a strong first quarter. Despite much-touted competition and questions, sales for its Cypher drug-eluting stent are still going strong, and the company booked healthy gains in its consumer and pharmaceuticals area as well.

Johnson & Johnson said first-quarter net income came in at $2.5 billion, or $0.83 per share, as compared to $2.07 billion, or $0.69 per share, in the same quarter a year ago. Revenues were 18% higher, at $11.6 billion, with a positive currency effect of 5.4%. The company also upped its guidance for 2004, to $3 per share.

Pharmaceutical sales were up a healthy 15.2%, based on the strength of medications like antipsychotic Risperdal and antiepileptic Topamax, while consumer sales gained 14.3%, including popular products like Tylenol and Aveeno. In addition, surely Atkins-friendly sweetener Splenda, another J&J product, contributed to the healthy showing.

Mathew Emmert, the Foolish name behind Motley Fool Income Investor, recently pointed to J&J as a healthy choice for investors searching for stable growth and income over the long term. Earnings like today's show the strength of the company, which he pointed out tends to do well regardless of economic conditions.

One of the major issues facing Johnson & Johnson continues to be how it will fare in the "stent wars," namely in relationship to its standing against archrival Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX), which is in the process of launching its Taxus stent. J&J recently teamed up with another rival, Guidant (NYSE:GDT), to shore up its competitive stance. It makes sense, as Boston Scientific has gone out of its way to claim it can rapidly snap up 70% of the stent market.

How's that faring? The Taxus stent was launched in late March, and Johnson & Johnson's first quarter ends at the end of March. So, while the Cypher continues to hold its own, it's the second-quarter numbers that will give investors a better idea of whether the stent is suffering at the hands of Boston Scientific.

That's a major issue for Johnson & Johnson: increasing rivalry, generic and otherwise, for certain products; that's why the company recently said it planned to double research and development expenditures in 2004 -- to beef up its product pipeline. Regardless, the current quarter reminds investors that J&J has some very good days.

Want to talk about what the future holds for J&J? Talk to other Fools about this 117-year-old company on the Johnson & Johnson discussion board.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Now that she thinks of it, her medicine cabinet contains more than its fair share of J&J products (like Acuvue contacts, Tylenol, Band-Aids, and Aveeno -- not antipsychotics, for any wisenheimers out there).