Another quarter, another respectable performance for Novartis' (NYSE:NVS) pharmaceutical business.

Total sales at this diversified Swiss drug giant grew 12% for the second quarter (or 9% in local currencies). Branded pharmaceuticals constitute about two-thirds of the business, and this unit's 12% top-line growth fueled the company's overall performance. In other businesses, generics saw 13% revenue growth while consumer health grew 10% for the quarter.

On the margin side of the picture, though, things were a bit more muddled. The company's overall operating margin fell by nearly a full percentage point from the year-ago level. Don't blame the pharmaceutical business, though; good expense control allowed that sector to post a 140-basis-point improvement, ending the quarter at 31.4%.

The culprits, then, were the consumer health business and the generics business. Consumer health saw modest erosion, due mostly to higher marketing expenses. In the generics business, a "one-time" restructuring charge of $30 million thumped margins, though pricing for some compounds was also weak.

In the branded pharmaceutical business, there were few surprises. Cardiology drugs like Diovan and Lotrel continued to perform well, as did cancer drugs like Gleevec and Femara. For the quarter, the company's top 10 compounds constituted two-thirds of sales and grew 18% (15% in local currencies).

While Novartis has many interesting drugs in the pipeline, its next significant event should be its finalized purchase of Eon Labs (NASDAQ:ELAB). The deal to buy HexalAG is already done, and Novartis management hopes to finish the Eon deal before year's end. Once that's done, the company expects to record various one-time charges; operating income will take a hit between $150 million to $250 million. Novartis' Sandoz business will then be the largest generics maker in the world.

It seems like every pharmaceutical stock has its own little angle these days. Motley Fool Income Investor pick Merck (NYSE:MRK) appeals to value and income investors, Schering-Plough (NYSE:SGP) to turnaround investors, and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) to investors who want a one-stock proxy for the entire health-care world.

Novartis is neither the cheapest nor the most dear; neither the fastest-growing nor troubled by expiring patents or a weak pipeline. Rather, Novartis is a solid middle-of-the-road play with reasonable valuation, a solid pipeline, and a not-so-secret weapon in its Sandoz generics business.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson owns shares of Johnson & Johnson. The Fool has a disclosure policy.