Finding yield in health care stocks during the market storm

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Investors have looked to health care as a port in the storm during the stock market’s volatility over the last year. Now, in a rising interest rate environment, some parts of the sector may be poised for even better returns thanks to their dividends. “When I think about health care, I think of it as being stable companies that are selling things that people need versus things that people want,” said Art Hogan, B. Riley Wealth Management chief market strategist. In health care, “you still have companies that are throwing off good yield, so you get stability and good dividend yields.” Biotech and pharmaceuticals industries have an average dividend yield of 2.6%, ranking just behind the consumer staples, utilities, and energy sectors. The top three dividend payers are yielding well above the average. Drug development tool maker Viatris yields 5.3%, Gilead Sciences has a 4.6% payout, and Merck spinoff Organon — which specializes in women’s health — has a 4.25% yield. But their high yields are due, in part, to their stocks’ negative performance. All three are down sharply over the last 12 months, with Viatris and Organon both hitting new lows this week. “The stocks are worth more than their dividend payout. Demand for pharmaceuticals will remain robust and has proven itself as a good play in a slowdown/recession scenario,” said Chantico Global CEO Gina Sanchez. She added, however, that “as yields continue to climb, they will face stiffer competition.” CNBC Pro screened for the health care stocks with solid dividend yields that are well liked by analysts (more than 50% have rate them as buy) and also outperforming the market. Just two stocks made the grade: drug maker AbbVie and pharmacy and health services giant CVS Health. AbbVie has a dividend yield of 3.9% and more than half of analysts who cover the company rate it a buy. B. Riley’s Art Hogan listed the stock among his best dividend picks, noting that while the company’s top-selling drug Humira faces competition from biosimilars in 2023 the stock price is heavily discounting the company’s estimate growth rate of nearly 6%. Nearly two-thirds of analysts rate CVS Health a buy. The company, which includes pharmacy benefits as well the Aetna health insurance division, has a dividend yield of 2.1%. Over the last three months, CVS shares are up 9%, with the stock’s 50-day moving average now poised to move above its 200-day average, a potentially bullish sign form a technical standpoint. While CVS signed an $8 billion deal this month to acquire Signify Health, and has signaled that it is looking to buy more assets to build its services portfolio, the company remains committed to paying a dividend. This week the board approved a quarterly dividend of 55 cents per share.

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