MSD and Pfizer top Dow for 2018

MSD and Pfizer were 2018’s top gainers on the Dow Jones Industrial Average for the calendar year, with both companies bucking the trend of an otherwise lacklustre year for the index.

MSD was the biggest Dow winner, with shares of the company surging more than 30%, with a dividend yield of 2.9% – far outperforming the other companies on the index.

A key driver of MSD’s performance was its immuno-oncology drug Keytruda, which continues to be one of the biggest drugs in the growing immunotherapy market. Sales of the drug rose 150% in the first quarter, 89% in the third quarter and 80% in the third quarter on a year-on-year basis.

The company entered the year having only managed to raise revenues by 1% in 2017, reflecting a sharp decline in sales of its cardiovascular blockbuster Vytorin following patent expiry. However there was good news in May when Keytruda demonstrated it could significantly boost survival in patients with untreated squamous non-small cell lung cancer, in combination with chemotherapy in a phase 3 trial.

MSD has reported sales growth in 2016 and 2017, and is expected to do so in 2018.

Meanwhile, Pfizer were the second-best Dow performers for 2018, with shares rising more than 18% with a dividend yield of 3.3%.

The two companies were seen as safe bets for investors in an otherwise volatile year for the stock market in the US, despite increasing pressure from US president Donald Trump and the government as a whole to lower prices.

At the end of 2018 Pfizer announced it would be raising prices for 41 of its drugs despite Trump’s criticism.

Only 14 of the 30 stocks in the index ended in the green this year, compared to the 25 that closed positive in 2017.

Though MSD and Pfizer were the only two pharma firms on the Dow index of 30 companies, Eli Lilly were among the 20 largest gainers on the broader S&P 500 Index.

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