3 High-Yield Healthcare Stocks

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Picking solid high-yield dividend stocks can be tricky. Most companies that offer an elevated yield, after all, tend to do so because of a fundamental weakness in their underlying business. 

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Our Motley Fool investors, however, think that healthcare stalwarts Sanofi (NYSE: SNY), GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK), and Welltower (NYSE: HCN) are three high-yield dividend stocks worth considering right now. Read on to find out more. 

This biopharma giant keeps tracking higher

George Budwell (Sanofi): Healthcare stocks generally aren't a great place to look for above-average yields. Developing new medical products, after all, is a cost-intensive process that tends to cut deeply into a company's free cash flow.

The French biopharma titan Sanofi, however, is arguably one of the few names in healthcare worth considering as a high-yield play. Sanofi offers a yield of 3.34%, which is above the average of the broader field of healthcare stocks.

As a bonus, the drugmaker also sports a trailing payout ratio of 79.2% -- fairly modest relative to its immediate big-pharma peer group. And with its top line projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 3% over the next six years, Sanofi should continue to easily be able to cover its top-flight dividend. 

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Even so, Sanofi does have its risks. The company is currently reeling from the loss of exclusivity for its top-selling diabetes drug, Lantus. Sanofi's U.S. diabetes franchise, for example, saw a whopping 19% drop in sales during the first half of 2017 compared with the same period a year ago, thanks to Lantus's loss of patent protection. 

The good news is that Sanofi's pipeline appears to be up to the task of restocking the cupboard, so to speak. In the past year, for example, the drugmaker gained three major drug approvals that included the anti-inflammatory medicine Dupixent, which is forecast to quickly become the company's next megablockbuster product.

While Sanofi is in the process of pivoting to its next generation of products, the company and its top-notch dividend do appear to be on solid footing.  

Respiratory and HIV drugs have this nearly 5% yield on solid ground

Sean Williams (GlaxoSmithKline): When it comes to the King Kong of all dividends in the healthcare sector, we're talking about U.K.-based drug giant GlaxoSmithKline. Currently sporting a 4.9% yield, GlaxoSmithKline's payout is more than two times that of the average yield of the S&P 500.

As recently as last year, there was uncertainty over whether this payout would be sustainable. The company's prized respiratory blockbuster, Advair, was set to face generic competition and had lost significant pricing power, while its new line of COPD and asthma therapies had struggled to gain insurer approval and physician awareness following their approval. However, we've seen a marked improvement in sales of new therapeutics for GlaxoSmithKline over the past year, which offers strong evidence that this high-yield dividend is sustainable.

An obvious bright spot was the turnaround in new product respiratory sales. Both Breo Ellipta and Anoro Ellipta, which had struggled to get the OK for formulary inclusion from insurers following their launch, have put those demons in the rearview mirror. Through the first half of fiscal 2017, sales of Breo and Anoro were up a respective 89% to $642 million and 67% to $195 million on a constant currency basis. Growth from new drugs has eclipsed the sales being lost from mature products.

Also helping Glaxo are its fast-growing HIV drugs, Tivicay and Triumeq. Glaxo has a majority stake in ViiV Healthcare, which developed these therapies. On a constant currency basis, sales for its HIV segment have risen 18% year to date, with Tivicay and Triumeq up a respective 39% and 44%. Since HIV has no cure, these long-term-use antivirals should continue to be core medicines used to fight the disease.

Income investors looking for a nearly guaranteed dividend in the healthcare sector should give GlaxoSmithKline a closer look.

The top dog in senior care 

Brian Feroldi (Welltower): Healthcare advances are enabling Americans to live longer than ever. As a result, the number of people aged 85 and over is expected to double between now and 2036. That's a heck of a tailwind for healthcare investors in general, but one of my favorite ways to profit from the trend is with Welltower.

Welltower is one of the largest healthcare-focused REITs in the world, owning a broad portfolio of 1,384 healthcare properties spread throughout the U.S., U.K., and Canada. While the company owns a handful of outpatient medical buildings and acute-care properties, the bulk of its facilities are dedicated to the housing needs of seniors. As of the end of June, Welltower's properties counted 192,000 seniors as residents.  

One risk that comes with catering to the needs of seniors is that the government is often the payer of choice. Given the endless rhetoric in Washington related to the future of U.S. healthcare, Welltower's management team decided a few years ago to sell its properties that depend heavily on government payments. While this decision has muted growth, 93% of the company's revenue now comes from private payers, up from just 69% in 2010. In my view, this transition has done wonders to reduce the company's risk profile.

While Welltower's portfolio transition is still weighing on its profit growth, I think the company's focus on risk reduction will lay a strong foundation for future growth in the years ahead. With a dividend yield of 5.1% and major demographics trend at its back, Welltower is a great high-yield stock for healthcare investors to get to know. 

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Brian Feroldi has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. George Budwell has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Sean Williams has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Welltower. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.