7 Defensive Dividend Healthcare Stocks to Buy Now

Dividend Stocks
  • Adding defensive healthcare stocks can be a great way to ride out continued volatility in the market.
  • AbbVie (ABBV): Investors are overreacting to this venerable big pharma company’s recent earnings report.
  • Amgen (AMGN): An established biotech company with a high forward dividend yield (3.33%).
  • Baxter International (BAX): A reasonably-priced medical products provider on track to deliver strong results.
  • Quest Diagnostics (DGX): Focus will soon shift to the evergreen nature of its main testing business.
  • Humana (HUM): Growing Medicare Advantage enrollments point to stability and growth for Humana.
  • Merck (MRK): Still has room to move higher, despite recent post-earnings spike.
  • Zoetis (ZTS): While regarded as a high-growth high-flier, Zoetis is inflation and recession-resistant.

Uncertainty about the stock market and the overall economy continues to run high. It’s not too late to go defensive. A good way to do that is to focus your portfolio on dividend-paying defensive stocks. Resilient during market downturns, they can provide you steady returns due to their dividend payouts. There are defensive stocks that offer solid dividends across all sectors, but a great place to look is among healthcare stocks.

Why healthcare? It’s a very recession-resistant sector. In good times and bad times, health care products and services are in-demand. Earnings for high-quality healthcare stocks stay pretty consistent, no matter the health of the overall economy.

So far this year, knowing full well of its “safe harbor” bona fides, investors have already started to cycle into this space. That said, as the market overall has pulled back in recent days, even these names have experienced some weakness.

Said weakness is likely to be temporary, making now a great time to “buy the dip,” and add them to your portfolio. When it comes to healthcare stocks, these seven are just what the doctor ordered.

ABBV AbbVie $152.84
AMGN Amgen $233.68
BAX Baxter International $72.83
DGX Quest Diagnostics $137.35
HUM Humana $437.23
MRK Merck $87.59
ZTS Zoetis $172.81

Healthcare Stocks: AbbVie (ABBV)

abbvie (ABBV) website and logo on mobile phone

Source: Piotr Swat / Shutterstock.com

As I discussed last month, several developments, along with market-related factors, have knocked down AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) shares. Along with this, a mixed quarterly earnings report added more pressure towards the end of April.

However, don’t let this pharmaceutical stock’s recent performance scare you away. AbbVie’s operating performance last quarter may not be indicative of future earnings results. Sales from newer drugs like Skyrizi and Rinvoq still stand to make up for declining Humira sales. Humira (its current flagship drug) will lose its U.S. exclusivity in 2023.

Furthermore, the market has overreacted to what’s really a slight walking back of its 2022 earnings guidance. Recent negatives are already baked into the ABBV stock price. It trades for just 10.5 times forward earnings and has a 3.8% forward dividend yield. Once the market comes to its senses and again appreciates its defensive qualities, this latest pullback will reverse.

This stock earns an “A” rating in my Dividend Grader.

Amgen (AMGN)

the Amgen (AMGN) logo on a building during daylight

Source: Michael Vi / Shutterstock.com

When you think about biotech, stability may not be the first thing that comes to mind. After all, aren’t biotech stocks volatile? That may be the case for most smaller, more early-stage biotech names, but for established ones like Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN), that’s not the case.

With its diversified portfolio of therapeutics, covering a wide variety of ailments, Amgen is consistently profitable. Demand for its life-saving treatments stays robust, whether the economy is experiencing boom times, tough times, or something in-between. In turn, this enables the company to offer and sustain an above-average dividend.

At today’s prices, AMGN stock has a forward yield of 3.3%. It’s also grown this dividend ten years in a row. As its earnings continue to rise, chances are this payout will continue to grow. Reasonably priced at 13 times this year’s estimated earnings, consider it a great defensive healthcare play.

This stock earns an “A” rating in my Dividend Grader.

Baxter International (BAX)

Source: Shutterstock

After talking about two healthcare stocks involved in drug making, let’s take a look at Baxter International (NYSE:BAX), which is involved in another area of the sector: medical devices and products.

A leading maker of intravenous products, Baxter also provides a wide variety of products used everyday in hospitals. Through its bioscience unit, Baxter is also a big provider of recombinant and blood plasma proteins. The stability of its business, dull as it may sound, is what makes it a great defensive play.

The company is on track to deliver strong results in 2022 and 2023. Especially as the benefits from its late 2021 acquisition of Hillrom begin to take shape. BAX stock trades at a low valuation (17 times earnings) given its quality and growth potential. It also has a growing dividend (currently yielding 1.6%). It’s another good example of the types of stocks you should be buying right now.

This stock earns a “B” rating in my Dividend Grader.

Healthcare Stocks: Quest Diagnostics (DGX)

Quest Diagnostics Patient Service Center in San Francisco Bay Area

Source: Sundry Photography / Shutterstock.com

Quest Diagnostics (NYSE:DGX) is another good example of a high-quality non-drug healthcare stock. Just like how Baxter is a little-known but important name in healthcare, so too is Quest.

A testing services provider, it plays a critical role in the modern healthcare system. However, it’s not this fact investors are focused on right now. Instead, investors are still absorbing the loss of its pandemic-era tailwind. Covid-19 testing helped to boost its results in 2020 and 2021.

This boost is expected to fade this year and the next. Even so, this already accounted for in the current DGX stock price. The evergreen nature of its main business will come back into focus. Ahead of this, you may want to consider buying it. It’s at a reasonable valuation at today’s prices. Its forward dividend of 2% may not scream high-yield, but this payout should continue to rise, given Quest’s history of dividend growth.

This stock earns an “A” rating in my Dividend Grader.

Humana (HUM)

A Humana (HUM) office building

Humana (NYSE:HUM) plays a big role in America’s healthcare system. The third-largest health insurer overall, it’s the second largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans.

Its focus on this area of the healthcare economy brings with it stability and growth opportunity. As Medicare Advantage enrollment continues to rise, thanks to demographic trends, Humana stands to see continued earnings growth in the years ahead, irrespective of economic conditions.

With these factors in mind, it’s no wonder HUM stock has held up relatively well year-to-date. Better yet, it’s not too late to add it to your portfolio. At today’s prices, it continues to trade at a more-than-fair valuation (19 times earnings). Steady earnings and dividend growth will drive it to higher prices over time. Earnings are expected to grow by double-digits (12%) this year. Over the past five year, it’s raised its dividend by an average of 14.5% per year.

This stock earns an “A” rating in my Dividend Grader.

Merck (MRK)

Merck (MRK) logo outside of corporate building

Source: Atmosphere1 / Shutterstock.com

Like AbbVie, Merck (NYSE:MRK) is a big pharma play, sporting both a low valuation (12 times forward earnings) and a high dividend (forward yield of 3.1%). Unlike AbbVie though, Merck has been on a tear in recent days.

That’s because of a positive response to its first quarter earnings report. Revenue and earnings beat estimates. This was due not just to strong growth with its Covid-19 treatment, Lagevrio. Existing treatments like Keytruda performed strongly as well. But while the stock has spiked on this news, don’t think that it’s too late to buy.

The market continues to pivot to safe harbor plays. MRK stock is a prime example of a name many will cycle into. It offers stable earnings and stable dividends. As InvestorPlace’s Faizan Farooque pointed out last month, it’s been paying out dividends uninterrupted for over 40 years! This is the kind of dependability you need in today’s uncertain times.

This stock earns an “A” rating in my Dividend Grader.

Healthcare Stocks: Zoetis (ZTS)

a magnifying glass enlarges the Zoetis logo on a website

Source: Casimiro PT / Shutterstock.com

Admittedly, at first glance Zoetis (NYSE:ZTS) may seem more like a growth stock than a defensive stock. Trading for a high price-to-earnings (P/E) multiple (34.3 times), isn’t this the time of play we should avoid today?

Not necessarily. Shares in this leading provider of animal health products has a good chance of maintaining its valuation, which has already compressed since the start of 2022. Don’t let the reputation of ZTS stock as a high-flier fool you.

As an online commentator recently argued, Zoetis’s business is both inflation and recession resistant. This will likely enable it to maintain the level of earnings growth needed to sustain its current valuation. Although not a high-yielder (0.74%), you should keep in mind the potential for Zoetis to grow its payout over time. In the past five years, it’s increased its dividend by an average of 25% per year.

This stock earns an “A” rating in my Dividend Grader.

On the date of publication, Louis Navellier held long positions in ABBV, AMGN, DGX and ZTS. Louis Navellier did not have (either directly or indirectly) any other positions in the securities mentioned in this article.

 The InvestorPlace Research Staff member primarily responsible for this article did not hold (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.

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