Healthcare Business

Merrill Lynch Has 4 Safe Dividend-Paying Mega-Cap Pharmaceutical Stocks to Buy

This week has been brutal for investors as the markets retraced the lion’s share of the gains that came off the bottom of the late summer, early fall correction. However, before panicking and just selling everything, investors should remember that this has been an event-driven sell-off, not a fundamental one, as evidenced by Friday’s strong nonfarm payroll numbers. While China has issues, and some will affect the United States, the U.S. economy continues to chug along at a slow, but sure pace. And while the Middle East situation is delicate, history shows that is has been the case for the past 70 years.

One good plan for stockholders who are seeing gains evaporate is to rotate to a more defensive sector. Large cap pharmaceutical stocks totally fit the bill. They have solid growth potential, but few are thrown out by portfolio managers with the momentum stock bath water.

We screened the Merrill Lynch research database universe for the top mega cap pharmaceutical stocks that are rated Buy and found four for investors to consider now.

Abbott Laboratories

This top pharmaceutical stock has very solid growth potential. Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT) is a leading diversified global health care company that develops, manufactures and markets branded generics, medical devices, nutritional products and diagnostic solutions. It recently agreed to acquire the equity in Minnesota-based Tendyne that it does not already own for $250 million plus future payments tied to regulatory milestones. Merrill Lynch likes the purchase and the way the company is putting its substantial balance sheet to work.

The company also offers a diversified large cap play as earnings are split between five well-positioned business segments: Nutritionals (31% of revenues), Vascular (13%), Generic Pharmaceuticals (20%) and Diagnostics (25.5%) and Diabetes (10.5%).

Third-quarter earnings were solid and the emerging market sale growth continues to impress. Merrill Lynch has advised investors since the August sell-off to stay with the company.

Investors receive a 2.50% dividend, which was just recently raised. The Merrill Lynch price target for the stock is $53, and the Thomson/First Call consensus price target $51.47. Shares closed Thursday at $41.54.

Eli Lilly

This stock checks in at high on the global pharmaceutical lists at many top Wall Street firms, including the Merrill Lynch US 1 list. Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE: LLY) is a global health care company with numerous core products in a number of primary-care pharmaceutical markets. It generates revenues from its pharmaceutical product and animal health segments. The product portfolio includes Zyprexa (for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder), Gemzar (pancreatic cancer), Evista (osteoporosis), Cymbalta (depression), Cialis (erectile dysfunction), Strattera (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), Erbitux (cancer) and Alimta (chemotherapy). Eli Lilly also has a strong presence in the diabetes market.

Third-quarter earnings came in above consensus estimates, but revenues fell short, reflecting some potential generic competition for Cymbalta and Evista in the United States, as well as some negative currency movement. Trajenta, Strattera, Forteo and the animal health business should all help to offset the impact of genericization of former top-selling drugs. While fourth-quarter estimates were lighter than expected, Merrill Lynch remains very positive on the stock.

The company’s new cancer drug Cyramza won FDA approval for label expansion late last year. It treats patients suffering from metastatic colorectal cancer. This was the fourth Cyramza approval in a one-year period, as it already has approval to treat advanced or metastatic gastric or gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma and metastatic non-small cell lung cancer.

Shareholders receive a solid 2.51% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a $108 price target. The consensus target for the stock is $99.85. Shares closed Thursday at $81.41.

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