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Clinigen Group plc vs AstraZeneca plc: which is the hotter healthcare stock?

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Weak market appetite in end-of-week trading has seen Clinigen Group’s (LSE: CLIN) share price dip modestly from Thursday’s close.

This is despite Clinigen announcing in a reassuring AGM statement on Friday that “trading for the current financial year remains in line with the board’s expectations.”

However, the company — which sells and distributes pharmaceutical products — still remains within spitting distance of October’s record tops above 780p per share. And I reckon investors should expect fresh peaks sooner rather than later.

Strong statement

The medical giant has a brilliant record of generating double-digit earnings rises, and the City does not expect this trend to cease during any time soon. Indeed, growth of 18% is forecast for the year to June 2017, resulting in a P/E rating of 17.4 times.

While this may sail above the benchmark of 15 times that is widely considered attractive value, Clinigen still appears conventionally cheap relative to its earnings momentum — the pharma star’s PEG ratio stands bang on the ‘bargain’ standard of 1 times.

And those seeking tearaway dividend growth will also be drawn in by current dividend forecasts. Clinigen is anticipated to pay a 4.7p per share reward in fiscal 2017, up from 4p last year.

Sure, this reading also creates a low yield of 0.7%, a currently paltry reading when tallied up against the FTSE 100 forward average of 3.5%, for example. But I reckon the firm’s splendid earnings potential should create bumper income flows in the longer term.

Sparky acquisitions, like Asia, Africa and Australasia-focussed Link Healthcare in 2015, are providing Clinigen’s sales outlook with a significant shot in the arm.

And the company has plenty of ammunition to make further shrewd acquisitions and expand its geographical footprint — just last month the company also opened its first office in Japan, giving it access to another major medicines market.

As broker Numis notes, four-fifths of the world’s population — across both developed and emerging economies — do not have access to specialist medicines, while the huge counterfeit market is an added problem. These structural problems leave Clinigen in the box seat to print solid sales growth, in my opinion, particularly as global healthcare investment heads higher.

Risky business

Value hunters seeking exposure to the pharmaceuticals sector are likely to be more interested by the likes of AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN), however.

For fiscal 2017 the Cambridge business sports a P/E rating of 13.3 times. And a predicted dividend of 280 US cents per share yields a market-beating 5.1%.

AstraZeneca has made tremendous strides in revamping its threadbare product pipeline in recent times, and new products like Brilinta are flying off the shelves — indeed, the drugs giant saw sales of this product alone leap 22% during the third quarter, to $208m.

But of course drugs development is never an exact science, and failures in the lab can have vast financial repercussions in the form of lost revenues and increased R&D costs. At the same time AstraZeneca is also battling against generic competition to its established sales drivers like Crestor, and this issue caused group revenues to dip 4% between July and September, to $5.7bn.

I believe that AstraZeneca has both the know-how and financial clout to overcome these troubles and generate brilliant earnings growth in the years ahead. However, those seeking less risky access to the pharmaceuticals segment may wish to take a serious look at Clinigen instead.

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Royston Wild has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended AstraZeneca and Clinigen. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.