The world's population is getting older and older each year, which makes the odds quite favorable that the long-term trend of increasing spending on healthcare is likely to continue. When you add that trend to the fact that spending on healthcare services tends to be recession resistant, it can make sense to devote at least a part of your portfolio to healthcare-related stocks. However, given all the complexities of the space and the increased political focus on the sector, it can be a bit of a challenge to find a healthcare stock that doesn't require constant monitoring.
Knowing that, we asked our team of Motley Fool contributors to share a healthcare stock that they think is a good choice for investors who want exposure to the space, but don't want to feel like they need to watch its every move. Read below to see which stocks they believe fit that description best.
George Budwell: For all intents and purposes, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) had a miserable third quarter. Because of the negative impacts of a strong dollar on international sales, and the entrance of new hepatitis C drugs into the marketplace, the company's quarterly sales declined by 7.4% compared to the same period a year ago. Even so, J&J's stock is up nearly 7% since releasing its disappointing Q3 results about a month ago.
Why is this large-cap healthcare stock so resilient? The answer lies in J&J's top-notch management. The company's brass has outlined several simple, yet achievable, goals to help shareholders keep the faith, even in turbulent times. One of its major goals, for example, is to consistently grow J&J's bottom and top lines faster than the sector average. To do so, it has invested heavily in share buybacks, as well as the company's pharma pipeline via M&A and external partnerships over the years.
Perhaps what's most telling is that J&J's pharma pipeline was recently ranked No. 1 by the IDEA Pharma Productive Innovation Index for 2015, and this outstanding achievement was accomplished without breaking the bank. Unlike many pharma companies right now that are carrying unsightly amounts of leverage on their balance sheets due to extensive M&A activity, J&J sports a reasonable debt-to-equity ratio of 27.8%, according to data provided by S&P Capital IQ. That's a testament to management's prudence when it comes to M&A, along with its keen ability to grow the company's top line organically.
The bottom line is that J&J's management team has proven to be capable stewards, meaning that shareholders can own this stock without having to constantly check up on it.
Todd Campbell: It's always wise to check in from time to time on your long-term investments, but if you're looking to build a portfolio that includes a healthcare stock that requires little monitoring, you might want to include UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH).
UnitedHealth Group is the largest national health insurer in America, and a larger insured population means that it's a key beneficiary of healthcare insurance reform that's reducing the rate of the uninsured. The company's membership includes people enrolled in employer-based health-insurance plans, plans that are sold through state health-insurance marketplaces, Medicare Advantage plans, Part D prescription drug plans, and state Medicaid programs.
Additionally, UnitedHealth Group operates Optum, a business that provides healthcare data analytics and pharmacy benefit management services that should benefit as our population gets older and requires more (and increasingly complex) healthcare services and solutions.
Overall, despite a slate of regulatory challenges, UnitedHealth Group's trailing 12-month revenue and net income have more than doubled to greater than $146 billion and $6.1 billion, respectively, in the past decade. That suggests that it has the know-how to capitalize on demand tied to growing employment, reform, and retiring seniors looking to bulk up their healthcare coverage.
Brian Feroldi: The controversy of the pricing of prescription drugs has been dominating the headlines recently, so investors who do not want to have to constantly monitor the news of the day might want to consider making an investment in the distribution channels of the drugs, rather than the drugmakers themselves. One great company that could make a fine choice in the space is retail pharmacy giant CVS Health (NYSE:CVS), as the company is positioned to grow nicely no matter how the pricing of the drugs themselves plays out.
CVS Health has two main operating segments that are driving its results: retail stores and its pharmacy benefits management business. On the retail side, CVS boasts several growth drivers that should help drive sales growth in the coming years.
First off is its continued rollout of its "MinuteClinics," where the company provides health services at its retail stores through a team of nurse practitioners and physician assistants for a huge variety of minor health issues. Beyond MinuteClinic, the company recently inked a deal with Target to take over its pharmacies, which should nicely expand the company's retail footprint. Lastly, the company recently acquired Omnicare, a provider of pharmacy services to long-term care facilities.
The other side of its business is pharmacy benefits management, where CVS helps other companies process and pay their prescription drug claims while keeping costs down. This is a huge business, generating $25 billion in revenue last quarter alone, and it should continue to grow as companies of all sizes look to keep their pharmacy costs in check.
CVS' profits grew more than 11% in the most-recent quarter, and the company expects the good times to continue next year. Management is predicting growth of 10% to 14% in 2016 and adjusted EPS to fall between $5.68 and $5.88. This means that investors who get in today are paying roughly 16 times next year's projected earnings for this high-quality name.