3 Best Dividend Stocks in Biotech

Around 3,000 stocks pay dividends. These stocks are for companies representing practically every industry under the sun. But very few of them are biotechs.

For the most part, biotech companies tend to pour any revenue they make back into development. However, a select few do reward shareholders with dividend payments. Here's why AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV), Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN), and Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) are the best three dividend stocks in the biotech world.

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AbbVie: Humming with Humira

AbbVie probably claims the best track record of any biotech dividend stock. Although the company has only paid a dividend since 2013, that's because AbbVie didn't exist as a separate entity until then. As part of its parent, Abbott Labs, the dividend checks have been rolling since 1924 and have increased annually for a whopping 45 consecutive years.

I have argued in the past that AbbVie ranks as the best biotech dividend stock of all. My opinion hasn't changed. AbbVie's dividend yields a mouth-watering 3.88%. The biotech uses less than 61% of its earnings to fund the dividend program.

Even better, those earnings should increase in the future. Sales for AbbVie's top product, Humira, continue to grow at a solid pace, with revenue topping $16 billion last year. Sales are soaring for cancer drug Imbruvica, with plenty of room for more growth. The company's pipeline includes several potential blockbuster candidates, with cancer drug Rova-T and rheumatoid arthritis drug ABT-494 standing out especially.

The biggest risk for AbbVie's dividend is potential loss of revenue from Humira to biosimilar rivals. Amgen received U.S. approval for a Humira biosimilar last year, but AbbVie has been able to keep the drug off the market through the legal system. AbbVie's executives believe the company will be able to protect Humira from competition in the U.S. through 2022 by defending its intellectual property rights for the drug.

Amgen: One of the fastest-growing dividends around

Amgen boasts a dividend yield of 2.87%. The biotech first began paying a dividend in 2011. Since then, Amgen's dividend has more than quadrupled, ranking the company among the biopharmaceutical companies with the fastest-growing dividends.

There's no reason to think the dividend increases won't keep on coming. Amgen uses less than 40% of its earnings to pay dividends. The biotech also reported a cash stockpile totaling $38.4 billion at the end of the first quarter (including cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities).

Investors might be a little concerned about Amgen's growth prospects, though. The company's revenue dropped slightly in the first quarter compared to the prior-year period, hurt by slowing sales for Enbrel and Epogen. Amgen faces biosimilar competition for Neupogen that is also causing some problems for Neulasta in Europe.

The biotech hopes to offset some of the sales declines from Enbrel and Epogen with newer products like cholesterol drug Repatha and leukemia drug Blincyto. Amgen also has several promising pipeline candidates, particularly experimentalmigraine drug erenumab and experimentalheart failure drug omecamtiv mecarbil.

Gilead Sciences: A solid dividend and low payout ratio

Gilead Sciences is the newcomer to the dividend scene among these biotech stocks. The biotech didn't pay out its first dividend until 2015. However, Gilead immediately leaped to the top tier of healthcare dividend stocks. Its dividend currently yields 3.15% after back-to-back annual increases of 10% in 2016 and 2017.

There should be plenty of room for Gilead's dividend to increase even more. The biotech's dividend payout ratio stands at just over 20%. Gilead also has a huge cash position like Amgen does, reporting$34.0 billionof cash, cash equivalents, and marketable securities at the end of March.

However, it seems quite possible that Gilead might funnel its cash into acquisitions rather than future dividend increases. The company's management has talked quite a bit about using its money to buy other biotechs, particularly in the oncology area.

Gilead needs to make one or more acquisitions to return to growth. The biotech's HIV franchise is performing well, but sales for its hepatitis C drugs have plunged over the past year. Although Gilead has several promising pipeline candidates, they won't be enough on their own to help the company turn things around.

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Keith Speights owns shares of AbbVie and Gilead Sciences. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Gilead Sciences. The Motley Fool has the following options: short June 2017 $70 calls on Gilead Sciences. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.