Baxter International's (NYSE:BAX) first quarter illustrates once again that the company's diverse medical offerings compose a model portfolio, especially when compared to more narrowly focused Big Pharma companies such as Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Merck (NYSE:MRK).

Baxter's combination of blood-related products, drugs, devices, medical supplies, and renal care enabled it to produce diluted earnings per share of $0.83 for the January-March period, exceeding the Wall Street consensus forecast by $0.02. This was the 18th consecutive quarter in which its earnings per share exceeded Wall Street estimates.

The profit figure, excluding one-time items, was $0.09 better than the year-ago period. Baxter extracted a higher profit from fewer sales. First-quarter revenue of $2.83 billion was 2% less than the year-ago quarter and about 1.5% below the consensus of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Sales were adversely affected by a stronger U.S. dollar.

Baxter's first quarter followed in the footsteps of its hybrid peers Abbott (NYSE:ABT) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), both of which reported higher first-quarter earnings, beating Wall Street estimates, even though revenues were lower than in the year-ago quarters.

Skill plus numbers
But it takes more than a lot of products to yield good results. As many big medical companies have stumbled, Baxter Chairman and CEO Robert Parkinson has managed his portfolio by emphasizing what he calls "the medical necessity of our products."

Baxter focuses on products where there are no gray areas, such as its treatment for hemophilia. "You either have it or you don't," Parkinson said during the conference call. "If you have it, it's life-threatening. And if it's life-threatening, it has to be treated."

Baxter isn't immune to a weak economy, and its overall revenue will remain affected by a strong dollar. The company also continues to struggle with a troublesome infusion pump called Colleague.

But that's the beauty of Baxter's portfolio of products: One product's difficulty shouldn't knock the whole company off stride. The proof has been in the stock price.

Comparative advantage
Over the past five years, Baxter's stock is up 61%, while both the broad market index and the big drugmaker index are in the red. As a long-term investment, Baxter easily beats J&J and Abbott.

As for the near term, Baxter has a second-quarter EPS forecast of $0.93 to $0.95, excluding special items, in line with the consensus of $0.94, and a full-year forecast of $3.72 to $3.78, also in line with Wall Street.

Solid. Predictable. Growing. Shareholders can't complain.

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Fool contributor Robert Steyer doesn't own shares of any companies cited in this article. Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor selection. Pfizer is an Inside Value choice. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.