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Stocks in this article: LLY ED T PGF KMP

1. Eli Lilly (LLY) (LLY): With a hefty 5.8% yield, the Indianapolis-based Lilly has one of the highest yields of any big pharma major pharmaceutical company, and it's the only member of that cohort still consistently raising its dividend. Pfizer (PFE) (PFE) cut its payout, while Wyeth (WYE), Merck (MRK) (MRK), and Bristol-Myers (BMY) are just holding pat. Lilly's willingness to raise increase its payout is sign of strength that you will find nowhere else in big pharma. The company made some smart acquisitions in 2008, including buying ImClone for $6 billion.

The ImClone acquisition was worth every penny. Its strong biotech franchise provides immediate growth, the kind that companies like Lilly salivate over, thanks to the cancer drug Erbitux. The acquisition also helps bolster Lilly's drug pipeline before its current top-seller, the anti-psychotic Zyprexa, stands to lose patent protection in 2011. Thanks to Erbitux, Lilly is now one of very few companies with a strong anti-cancer franchise, a category of drugs that governments around the world are still willing to reimburse insurers for. That matters at a time when almost every developed country faces ballooning budget deficits, and the President of the United States is committed to cutting healthcare costs.

How about that dividend? Eli Lilly has boosted its payout for 41 consecutive years, most recently in December 2008 when it raised its quarterly dividend to 49 cents a share, which comes to $1.96 annually. How does Lilly stand up to the safety test? The company can cover its payout 2.2 times with expected 2009 earnings of $4.22 a share. Two thumbs up, way up. And since Lilly's profit is expected to grow another 7% in 2010, we will likely see more dividend boosts here. Eli has a fair amount of debt on its balance sheet, but it still garners an A-rating from the major agencies. Part of this is because the company only has $400 million coming due in 2009, and nothing else until 2012. No need to worry on that front, either. But not everything is smooth sailing in this stock.

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