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NEW YORK (
TheStreet) -- In my initial column this month, I explored the
wonders of dividends. Typically greeted warmly by investors, they can be far more meaningful than simply as a source of income for shareholders. Dividends can also be an indicator of a company's overall health. Companies that continue to raise their dividends year in and year out can be sending a signal that management is confident in the company's prospects and confident enough to up the ante of the amount they return to shareholders on a fairly regular basis.
Given the shellacking companies often take if they have to reduce or eliminate their dividend, this is not something that can be faked to placate shareholders. A dividend must be paid in cash, and any management team that knowingly raises the dividend beyond what the company can sustain would be doing so at their peril. In a sense, this represents a built-in system of checks and balances.
Below a $5 billion market cap there are plenty of companies growing, stable and paying out dividends.
In my initial column, I focused on identifying larger companies with growing dividends and the wherewithal to continue that into the future. Here I lower the bar in terms of market capitalization to an upper limit of $5 billion, highlighting some smaller dividend growers available to investors. I've also set a lower limit of $500 million; while there may be some opportunities in names below that level, those may be too small for some investors.
All other criteria remain the same as in my initial search:
Dividend payout ratio below 50% for the past two years
Dividends have been raised for at least the past seven years
Dividend growth rate at least 10% for the past five years
Long-term debt-to-equity ratios below 50%
U.S. companies only
In all, 30 companies made the grade, a good number considering the stringent criteria. But the previous search featured some very familiar companies. This one features some that may not be as well-known to investors.
Just one retailer made the cut,
Men's Wearhouse(MW), which has increased its quarterly dividend from 0.05 cents in 2006 to 18 cents this year. That's an increase of 360%, yet the payout ratio is still just over 23%. Investment data and research provider
Factset(FDS) is the largest company on the list. It has increased its quarterly dividend more than fivefold since 2005 and still has me shaking my head -- earlier in my career, when I was responsible for
Bloomberg's equity data department, Factset was making quite a splash, and has quietly grown itself into a formidable nearly $5 billion market cap company.
At the very bottom of the list in terms of size you'll find an interesting name, $540 million market cap company
Badger Meter(BMI). This company, which makes water meters and related products, has more than doubled its dividend in the past seven years. During that time, the stock is up more than 300%.
Other companies meeting the criteria include property and casualty insurers
Amtrust Financial Services(AFSI),
Infinity Property and Casualty(IPCC) and
American Financial Group(AFG), as well as life insurance companies
American Equity Investment Life(AEL). There are plenty of regional banks, including
Bank of the Ozarks(OZRK) and
Other names include publisher
John Wiley & Sons(JW.A), metal fabrication name
Valmont Industries(VAM), farm products name
The Andersons(ANDE), trucking companies
Knight Transportation(KNX) and
Landstar System(LSTR), auto repair name
Monro Muffler Brake(MNRO), chemical companies
Westlake Chemical(WLK) and one of my former employers,
Outside the five insurance companies and three banks, this is a fairly diverse group of businesses that have all continued to increase their payouts to shareholders.