Updated from 5:10 p.m. EDTHealth stocks were mixed Thursday on a smattering of news, including an announcement that Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ) had raised its dividend. Johnson & Johnson said that because of its performance in 2008 and generally strong financial position, it is raising its quarterly dividend 6.5% to 49 cents from 46 cents. The next quarterly dividend will be payable June 9 to shareholders of record as of May 26. Johnson & Johnson's shares rose 0.4% to close at $51.40.
Also, Novo Nordisk ( NVO) shares were up 5.9% to $48.68 after European regulatory authorities issued a positive opinion on the diabetes drug Victoza. Novartis ( NVS) on Thursday reported a 14% drop in first-quarter profit, citing currency shifts and costs related to its takeover of Alcon. Novartis reported profit of $1.98 billion, compared with $2.3 billion in the same period a year ago. Shares were up 3.8% to $36.78 at the end of trading. Schering-Plough ( NVO) shares rose 1% to $21.89 after the company announced its experimental hepatitis C pill boceprevir helped reduce the virus in almost twice as many patients as existing drugs. Midstage study results showed that 75% to patients taking the along with other drugs saw their virus levels drop to undetectable levels. However, Schering reported a likely link between the drug and occurances of anemia. The company pointed out that anemia is a common side effect in existing hep c treatments. Among other widely held health care stocks, Eli Lilly ( LLY) shares rose 0.4% to $32.88, and GlaxoSmithKline ( GSK) shares fell 0.6% to $29.11.