Better Buy: AbbVie Inc. vs. GlaxoSmithKline plc

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Big drugmaker. High dividend yield. Promising new products.

All three apply to AbbVie Inc. (NYSE: ABBV) . They also all apply to GlaxoSmithKline plc (NYSE: GSK) . But while AbbVie stock has achieved solid gains so far in 2017, GlaxoSmithKline's share price isn't very far above where it started out the year. Past performance doesn't necessarily make one stock better than the other, though. Which of these big pharma stocks is the smarter pick for investors now? Here's how AbbVie and GlaxoSmithKline compare.

The case for AbbVie

Since high dividend yield and promising new products were already mentioned, let's first take a look at where AbbVie stands on both. The biotech's dividend currently yields 3.4%. I think AbbVie is the best dividend stock in big pharma , because this great yield combined with the company's excellent track record of dividend increases and its position for future dividend increases.

As for promising new products, AbbVie has an abundance of them. In immunology, the company has great late-stage candidates in upadacitinib and risankizumab. In oncology, Rova-T and veliparib are in phase 3 studies. Potential blockbuster elagolix is being evaluated in late-stage studies for treating endometriosis and uterine fibroids. And that's just the start. AbbVie's pipeline is so loaded that it was ranked third among all big pharma companies by market research firm EvaluatePharma.

We wouldn't want to leave out AbbVie's current products, though. Humira continues to reign as the top-selling drug in the world, raking in more than $16 billion last year. Sales for cancer drug Imbruvica totaled $1.8 billion in 2016 and are on track to top $2.3 billion this year. Recently approved hepatitis C drug Mavyret could be another blockbuster in AbbVie's lineup.

With a great dividend, a fantastic pipeline, and a solid current lineup, what more could you want in a stock? An attractive valuation, of course. AbbVie delivers there also. Shares currently trade at 12 times expected earnings.

The case for GlaxoSmithKline

GlaxoSmithKline's dividend yield of 4.98% ranks as one of the highest yields among healthcare stocks. Although the big drugmaker has cut its dividend somewhat over the past few years, it's hard to complain about that kind of yield.

The company's pipeline includes 16 late-stage candidates. Glaxo's deepest research area is in HIV. The drugmaker has a couple of two-drug combinations featuring dolutegravir that could be winners in addition to other experimental drugs for treating HIV infections and for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis.

There are quite a few already-approved drugs in GlaxoSmithKline's lineup that are enjoying rapid sales growth. In 2016, the company claimed seven drugs that posted year-over-year growth of at least 100%. HIV drug Triumeq led the way. Glaxo also saw tremendous sales growth for several of its newer respiratory drugs, including Relvar/Breo Ellipta and Anoro Ellipta.

Glaxo stock is also priced attractively. Shares currently trade at 14 times expected earnings. The consensus among Wall Street analysts is that the company will grow earnings by more than 12% annually over the next five years. Factoring in these growth prospects makes GlaxoSmithKline stock's valuation look even better.

Better buy

In my view, the decision between these two stocks isn't a difficult choice. I think the winner is clearly AbbVie.

AbbVie has the stronger slate of current products. It has the better pipeline. And even though its yield is lower than GlaxoSmithKline's, the likelihood of future dividend increases makes it the better choice for dividends as well.

There is one potential fly in the ointment for AbbVie, though: the threat to Humira. AbbVie is tied up in litigation to try to keep biosimilar rivals to Humira off the U.S. market. The company thinks it will be able to fend off rival products through 2022. If it's unsuccessful in doing so, AbbVie stock would suffer. Even with this risk, though, I think AbbVie is the better choice and should continue to reward investors for years to come.

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Keith Speights owns shares of AbbVie. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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