The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.By Paul Tracy NEW YORK ( StreetAuthority) -- I've found what I think is one of the safest dividend-paying stocks on the planet. During the past year, this company earned $8.6 billion in profits. It only distributed $4.6 billion in dividends. In other words, it could see its earnings fall more than 45% and still be able to maintain the dividend. At the same time, this company's stock has seemingly ignored the ups and downs of the past few months. Instead, it has steadily beaten the market in the past year. Just take a look at the chart.
Where is all of this new business coming from? The emerging markets. In particular, sales to Asia increased nearly 35% in 2011. As economies in developing regions expand, there's a substantial increase in the disposable incomes of their citizens. With a little more money in their wallets, a larger percentage of the population can afford premium international cigarettes. But of course, we're most interested in the dividend -- and its safety. Currently, Philip Morris International pays $0.77 per share every quarter. That amounts to $3.08 per share every year, or a 3.7% yield at recent prices. This might not sound like much to write home about, but here's the kicker -- Philip Morris has raised the dividend 67.4% since 2008.
And the company can afford to keep increasing the dividend. Like I said earlier, PMI has a payout ratio of 55%, indicating plenty of room for future growth, and a near-zero risk of a cut at this time. So though the shares currently yield 3.7%, investors who buy now are likely to see their yield on cost rise over time. Now, I know investing in cigarettes may not be for everyone. But as an analyst, it's my job to find investment opportunities. And with a history of steady cash flow, the strongest brand names in the industry, and substantial emerging market growth, Philip Morris International is an ideal safety-first income play. This doesn't mean this investment is risk-free -- nothing short of a savings account is. In fact, after a sharp move higher, conservative investors are likely to want to wait for a pullback before buying. But I do think the stock ranks high among the safest dividend-payers in the world. Philip Morris is just one of the many income-paying prospects available from companies focused overseas. In fact, I think the abundance of international income investments is one of the market's best-kept secrets. There are literally thousands of high-yielders abroad. To prove this, I recently had a member of StreetAuthority's research staff comprise a list of profitable companies with shares yielding 12% or more. What we found was pretty remarkable.
In total, my team found 227 common stocks paying dividends of 12% or higher. But only 17 of these companies were located in the United States. The other 210 were located in international markets. Action to Take --> This means if you want high-yielding stocks, then 92% of your opportunities are located outside the United States. But don't worry, you can buy many of these without even leaving the U.S. markets. I have more details -- including several names and ticker symbols -- in a presentation I recently put together. Visit this link to read it now. (
http://web.streetauthority.com/m/hy-intl/2012/ehna12/forget-treasuries-sample.asp?TC=HN0669 ) In the presentation, I've even included the full list of the 17 U.S. companies yielding above 12%. Paul Tracy owns shares of PM. StreetAuthority LLC does not hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article. More StreetAuthority Stories: This Could be the World's Best Oil Stock The Man Who Made $15 Billion from the Housing Bubble Just Bought These 5 Stocks Is this Stock the Next Google?