Stating that AstraZeneca(LSE: AZN) is a high-growth stock may sound rather unusual. After all, the company has delivered a number of years of declining profitability as its patent cliff has come to the fore. The loss of patents on many of its key, blockbuster drugs has caused its pre-tax profit to decline from $7.7bn in 2012 to just $3.6bn in 2016.
Clearly, it has been a challenging period for the business. However, following major investment in its pipeline, the company's outlook looks set to improve. This could make it a strong growth play for the long run, but it's not the only stock that could offer impressive returns. Reporting on Tuesday was another healthcare industry company which could be worth buying today.
The company in question is specialist biodecontamination products provider Bioquell (LSE: BQE). It delivered a positive trading update which showed that revenue for the full year will be ahead of its previous expectations. It is expected to be around £29.3m, which is a significant improvement on the prior year's figure of £26.8m.
Within that figure of £29.3m, around £28.6m is from the biodecontamination business. This represents a growth rate of 13% versus the previous year. The remaining £0.7m is from the defence business, where revenues fluctuate significantly from year to year.
Pre-exceptional earnings are due to be significantly ahead of market expectations. This could be a key reason why the stock price of Bioquell increased by around 12% following its update. With the company expected to report a further rise in its bottom line of 10% in the current year. This could help to stimulate investor sentiment towards the company and allow it to post further gains following its share price rise of 130% in the last year.
High total returns
Of course, Bioquell lacks the diversity, size and scale of AstraZeneca. Therefore, the larger of the two healthcare companies could offer a stronger overall risk/reward ratio. With the stock trading on a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 18, it seems to offer a fair price for the long term. It also has a dividend yield of 4.1%, with shareholder payouts being covered 1.4 times by profit. This suggests that they are highly sustainable at their current level and could rise at a relatively fast pace over the long run.
While AstraZeneca may not be a particularly popular stock at the present time, a changing outlook for stock markets could make it a more in-demand company to own. With investors currently focused on cyclical growth stocks, defensive companies which do not have high positive correlation with the rest of the economy are relatively unpopular. This could therefore provide an opportunity for investors to buy them at low prices and achieve relatively high total returns.
With the healthcare sector being highly defensive and offering a high degree of diversity, both AstraZeneca and Bioquell could be worth buying for the long term.
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Peter Stephens owns shares in AstraZeneca and Bioquell. The Motley Fool UK has recommended AstraZeneca. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.