Pharmaceutical firms are modern-day miracle workers.
Not too long ago, leeches were still used for bloodletting and whiskey doubled as anesthesia. Now ailments like diabetes and colon cancer, once death sentences, can be treated or managed.
Thank profit-seeking pharmaceutical companies for the proliferation and availability of medicines.
Given the importance of drugs and an aging Baby Boomer population, one would think that investing in pharmaceutical companies would be a lay-up. Well, that already happened in the 1990s.
This past decade, many pharma firms were persistent under-performers. Pfizer was a $40 stock in 2002. It hasn't traded above $30 since 2004.
Many investors held on for the difficult ride, counting their dividends even as unrealized capital losses far outweighed the modest income.
Times have once again changed.
As risk assets worldwide thrash amid political uncertainty in the U.S. and abroad and commodities, emerging markets, foreign currencies and other former leaders mark new multi-month lows, drug makers are showing leadership among equities not seen since the Clinton years.
That many drug makers, not just a few isolated strays, are strong lends credibility to the notion a sector-wide revaluation is underway.
Eli Lilly (LLY)
Prozac, Methadone and Cialis are among the company's most well-known treatments. Long before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was created, the company's founder insisted on a quality-control regime that only sold drugs to those patients who had first seen a doctor. The stock recently challenged multi-year highs, even as its yield approaches 5%.
Founded in Brooklyn in the 1850s, Pfizer (PFE)
Pfizer's business also includes a wide variety of non-prescription products such as ChapStick, Advil and Preparation H.Already challenging a 3-year peek, the stock yields 4.2%.
The stock yields 4.8% and still trades roughly 25% below its 2001 price.
iShares DJ U.S. Pharmaceutical Index vs. S&P 500
A wide variety of mutual funds are also available, including the Global Big Pharma ETN (DRGS),