How will the Donald Trump administration’s continued efforts to overhaul the tax code affect healthcare companies in coming years? If the Republicans fare badly at the ballot box this November, would it put the brakes on the Trump agenda? And what happens in 2020 when potentially a left-wing candidate could try to nationalize much of the healthcare system?
For many investors, the grave uncertainty about the political playing field has led them to stay away. But that could be a mistake. It’s no secret that America (and the world) is aging rapidly, and healthcare spending globally is only going higher. Yes, in the U.S., voters and politicians will have to make some tough choices that could harm healthcare profits in the short-term.
However, there’s much more to healthcare than just Medicare and Medicaid. On top of that, the seven healthcare stocks we talk about in this article offer a wide range of products and services within the industry, and several are in niches less vulnerable to regulatory shake-ups.
Given the changing demographic picture of the world, healthcare is simply too important to be ignored. These seven stocks could be the building blocks for a strong portfolio.
Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA)
The fallout from last year’s Retail Apocalypse still lingers in some areas. While many retailers and even mall operators have recovered in 2018, the pharmacy stocks are still struggling. CVS Health (NYSE:CVS) topped $110 a few years ago and is under $80 now. Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:WBA), similarly, hit $90 in 2015 and yet languishes around $73 today.
The reason for this is simple: Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) worries. After many rumors, Amazon announced a roughly $1 billion acquisition of online pharmacy PillPack earlier this summer, causing renewed jitters in the sector. In fact, both CVS and Walgreens lost much more in market cap than the total deal size on Amazon’s purchase.
Long story short, investors remain irrationally concerned about the Amazon threat in this sector. That leads to WBA stock remaining a strong value. WBA stock is selling at just 11x forward earnings. And as the company continues to digest its recent acquisition of stores from Rite Aid (NYSE:RAD), there should be more cost savings from that deal ahead, leading to further upside on earnings.
To be fair, the bears have some decent arguments here. Retail sales (the non-pharmacy part of the mix) remain pressured, and the addition of Rite Aid stores lowers Walgreens overall profit margin to some degree. It will take time for Walgreens to improve performance there — Rite Aid did have to sell for a reason, after all. However, these negatives have created a cheap stock with great appeal to dividend investors. Walgreens has boosted its dividend 32 years in a row, and is yielding 2.4% today thanks to the weakness in its share price.
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)
Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) has rallied nicely in recent weeks, advancing from the low $120’s to $138 now. Even still, at just 16x forward earnings, JNJ stock remains one of the best buy and hold blue chip stocks in the U.S.
If you were trying to build a diversified portfolio and could only buy one stock from each sector, Johnson & Johnson would be the best choice for healthcare. Johnson & Johnson offers amazing diversity in its product line-up.
All three main segments — consumer products, medical devices, and pharmaceutical drugs — are $10 billion-plus-per-year businesses. Any weakness in one division, such as concerns about drug pricing due to rhetoric from the Trump administration, can be offset by strength in the other two business segments.
Healthcare isn’t usually the first sector income investors think of for juicy dividend yields. But healthcare-focused REITs can be an attractive option. Earlier this year, REITs were getting blasted as interest rates soared. While interest rates are rising again, investors have bought the dip in REITs to some degree. With treasury yields making new highs to October, REITs could correct again. If so, be ready to buy the dip.
Leading healthcare REIT Ventas (NYSE:VTR) trades at $53, well short of its 52-week high. Five years ago, VTR was trading around $60/share — sentiment is quite sour on the space for the time being. Given the raging bull market elsewhere, five years of sideways action in VTR stock could be setting up a consolidation before the next big move upward.
Now to be certain, there are headwinds. In addition to interest rate risk, the U.S.’s healthcare policy outlook remains highly uncertain. Ventas earns close to half its revenue from senior housing properties, and there is risk that the government will cut reimbursements in the future. However, Ventas also owns large numbers of properties in other segments, including life sciences and medical office buildings. Add it up, and you have a diversified 6%-yielding healthcare REIT whose stock has been flat for the past five years. That could change with any improvement in REIT sentiment and/or more clarity in the outlook for the senior housing market.
Gilead Sciences (GILD)
Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) continues its bumpy transition from biotech growth company to deep value stock. In 2015, GILD stock was on top of the world. It had gone up 400% in just a few years, and earnings were heading ever-higher. But then, everything flipped into reverse.
The issue was simple: because Gilead’s blockbuster group of HCV drugs cured rather than treated the disease, revenues started to decline rapidly. While this was great news for patients, it left GILD stock looking rather ill. Within a couple years, GILD stock lost as much as half of its value.
Now, however, Gilead’s revenues are about to stabilize. Down from $33 billion annually at their peak, sales dropped to $23 billion last year, taking the stock price with it. This latest quarter showed further declines, though signs of turning the corner are increasingly evident. Gilead expects sales of $21 billion for this full year, and analysts see revenues rising from that trough from 2019 onward.
With the brunt of Gilead’s decline behind it, and a new CEO and chief scientific officer on the way, Gilead is set to return to glory. At this point, the market is still giving GILD stock little credit. Shares trade for 12x earnings and offer a 3% dividend – quite strong for a biotech firm. Once the company shows rising revenues and earnings again next year, the stock should rally nicely.
Novo Nordisk (NVO)
The diabetes epidemic, sadly, is not going anywhere. Between 1980 and 2014, the number of people worldwide with diabetes soared from 108 million to 422 million. And all signs indicate that this number will continue to swell in coming years. A variety of factors — including the spread of unhealthy western diets in emerging markets, longer lifespans and higher obesity rates — all contribute to this demographic time bomb.
Given the near-inevitability of the diabetes epidemic’s continued spread as the world population ages and grows more obese, Novo Nordisk (NYSE:NVO) is a solid pick for long-term, buy-and-hold investors. Novo Nordisk is the world leader in diabetes management, offering various products for both Type 1 and Type 2 states of the disease. Novo was a pioneer in the diabetes space, having operated in it for more than 80 years. It currently controls more than 25% of the estimated $50 billion diabetes market globally.
NVO stock got pummeled last year, falling from its old high of $60 to $30 as issues related to rebates and drug pricing caused a sharp drop in investor sentiment. However, the company quickly got the issues resolved; the stock is still only back to $47 now. With the diabetes market only continuing to grow, Novo Nordisk should find it easy to keep delivering for shareholders despite the occasional bump in the road. At 18x earnings and with a 3% dividend yield, NVO stock is a fairly priced healthcare stock to buy in a sweet spot of the aging of the world demographics trend.
Dentsply Sirona (XRAY)
About the only thing more painful than a trip to the dentist lately has been owning dental equipment supplier Dentsply Sirona (NASDAQ:XRAY). While Dentspy had delivered excellent stock performance in recent years, it all came apart earlier this year. Since December 2017, shares have plunged from $68 to $37 as the company’s expensive acquisition of Sirona has failed to deliver expected benefits.
Previously, Dentsply had focused on dental consumables for niche applications such as endodontics, orthodontics and implants. The Sirona acquisition moved Dentsply into dental imaging in a major way. In theory this could be a great business for the company, as it offers much-higher-margin revenues. However, competition from the likes of Align (NASDAQ:ALGN) and others is fierce.
In any case, it seems the market has overly beat up XRAY stock on this year’s weak results. The stock is at less than 20x trough earnings. Management is restructuring the company and reassessing its R&D budget. And, like with Novo in diabetes, dentistry is a great demographic story.
Aging Americans will spend more and more on cosmetic dentistry in coming years, while in emerging markets, elective procedures such as orthodontics are booming as the middle class continues to grow. Take advantage of the excessive selling and pick up some XRAY stock at six-year lows.
Is it too late to buy Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) stock now? The answer: it depends. If you’re seeking short-term trading profits, buying PFE stock here at $45 is a tad risky, given that it has ramped up $10 per share in recent weeks.
On the other hand, for traders with a longer-term focus, PFE stock looks interesting on a technical basis. The stock made a double top in 1999 and 2000 at $50 per share. It proceeded to decline by half and then spend the past two decades trading sideways. Oftentimes, after period of huge consolidation, you’ll end up getting a massive technical move once the stock makes new nominal all-time highs. If it can top $50, Pfizer should keep powering higher.
As for the business itself, despite the recent jump in the share price, the stock is still a reasonable bargain. At 14x forward earnings and a 3% dividend yield, you could do much worse as far as giant diversified healthcare companies go. Pfizer hasn’t been as consistent in value creation as, say, Johnson & Johnson, but it appears that management has really improved operations for the company over the past couple years.
At the time of this writing, Ian Bezek owned WBA, JNJ, GILD, XRAY, and NVO stock.