4 Buy-Rated Dividend Stocks

Editor's Note: TheStreet ratings do not represent the views of TheStreet's staff or its contributors. Ratings are established by computer based on metrics for performance (which includes growth, stock performance, efficiency and valuation) and risk (volatility and solvency). Companies with poor cash flow or high debt levels tend to earn lower ratings in our model.

TheStreet Ratings' stock model projects a stock's total return potential over a 12-month period including both price appreciation and dividends. Our Buy, Hold or Sell ratings designate how we expect these stocks to perform against a general benchmark of the equities market and interest rates.

While plenty of high-yield opportunities exist, investors must always consider the safety of their dividend and the total return potential of their investment. It is not uncommon for a struggling company to suspend high-yielding dividends and subsequently result in precipitous share price declines.

TheStreet Ratings' stock rating model views dividends favorably, but not so much that other factors are disregarded. Our model gauges the relationship between risk and reward in several ways, including: the pricing drawdown as compared to potential profit volatility, i.e. how much one is willing to risk in order to earn profits?; the level of acceptable volatility for highly performing stocks; the current valuation as compared to projected earnings growth; and the financial strength of the underlying company as compared to its stock's valuation as compared to its stock's performance.

These and many more derived observations are then combined, ranked, weighted, and scenario-tested to create a more complete analysis. The result is a systematic and disciplined method of selecting stocks. As always, stock ratings should not be treated as gospel — rather, use them as a starting point for your own research.

The following pages contain our analysis of 4 stocks with substantial yields, that ultimately, we have rated "Buy."

Medical Properties

Dividend Yield: 4.90%

Medical Properties (NYSE: MPW) shares currently have a dividend yield of 4.90%.

Medical Properties Trust, Inc. operates as a real estate investment trust (REIT) in the United States. It acquires, develops, and invests in healthcare facilities; and leases healthcare facilities to healthcare operating companies and healthcare providers. The company has a P/E ratio of 24.19.

The average volume for Medical Properties has been 2,094,100 shares per day over the past 30 days. Medical Properties has a market cap of $2.4 billion and is part of the real estate industry. Shares are up 37.1% year to date as of the close of trading on Friday.

TheStreet Ratings rates Medical Properties as a buy. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its solid stock price performance, impressive record of earnings per share growth, compelling growth in net income, revenue growth and expanding profit margins. Although the company may harbor some minor weaknesses, we feel they are unlikely to have a significant impact on results.

Highlights from the ratings report include:
  • Powered by its strong earnings growth of 125.00% and other important driving factors, this stock has surged by 72.81% over the past year, outperforming the rise in the S&P 500 Index during the same period. Turning to the future, naturally, any stock can fall in a major bear market. However, in almost any other environment, the stock should continue to move higher despite the fact that it has already enjoyed nice gains in the past year.
  • MEDICAL PROPERTIES TRUST reported significant earnings per share improvement in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. The company has demonstrated a pattern of positive earnings per share growth over the past two years. We feel that this trend should continue. During the past fiscal year, MEDICAL PROPERTIES TRUST increased its bottom line by earning $0.57 versus $0.13 in the prior year. This year, the market expects an improvement in earnings ($0.83 versus $0.57).
  • The net income growth from the same quarter one year ago has significantly exceeded that of the S&P 500 and the Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) industry. The net income increased by 147.6% when compared to the same quarter one year prior, rising from $10.56 million to $26.16 million.
  • Despite its growing revenue, the company underperformed as compared with the industry average of 10.1%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues slightly increased by 1.0%. This growth in revenue appears to have trickled down to the company's bottom line, improving the earnings per share.
  • The gross profit margin for MEDICAL PROPERTIES TRUST is rather high; currently it is at 60.60%. It has increased from the same quarter the previous year. Along with this, the net profit margin of 60.43% significantly outperformed against the industry average.

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Ameren

Dividend Yield: 4.40%

Ameren (NYSE: AEE) shares currently have a dividend yield of 4.40%.

Ameren Corporation operates as a public utility holding company in the United States. It operates in three segments: Ameren Missouri, Ameren Illinois, and Merchant Generation.

The average volume for Ameren has been 1,688,900 shares per day over the past 30 days. Ameren has a market cap of $8.7 billion and is part of the utilities industry. Shares are up 19% year to date as of the close of trading on Friday.

TheStreet Ratings rates Ameren as a buy. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its increase in stock price during the past year, increase in net income, growth in earnings per share and largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had somewhat disappointing return on equity.

Highlights from the ratings report include:
  • Compared to where it was a year ago today, the stock is now trading at a higher level, reflecting both the market's overall trend during that period and the fact that the company's earnings growth has been robust. Looking ahead, unless broad bear market conditions prevail, we still see more upside potential for this stock, despite the fact that it has already risen over the past year.
  • The net income growth from the same quarter one year ago has significantly exceeded that of the S&P 500 and the Multi-Utilities industry. The net income increased by 64.0% when compared to the same quarter one year prior, rising from -$403.00 million to -$145.00 million.
  • AMEREN CORP reported significant earnings per share improvement in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. This company has reported somewhat volatile earnings recently. But, we feel it is poised for EPS growth in the coming year. During the past fiscal year, AMEREN CORP swung to a loss, reporting -$4.01 versus $2.14 in the prior year. This year, the market expects an improvement in earnings ($2.10 versus -$4.01).
  • The debt-to-equity ratio is somewhat low, currently at 0.95, and is less than that of the industry average, implying that there has been a relatively successful effort in the management of debt levels. Even though the company has a strong debt-to-equity ratio, the quick ratio of 0.28 is very weak and demonstrates a lack of ability to pay short-term obligations.
  • AEE, with its decline in revenue, underperformed when compared the industry average of 2.2%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues fell by 11.0%. The declining revenue has not hurt the company's bottom line, with increasing earnings per share.

New From TheStreet: Jim Cramer's Protégé, Dave Peltier, only buys dividend stocks that have the potential for a 3% to 4% yield and 10% growth. Get his best picks for less than $50/year.

Ecopetrol S.A

Dividend Yield: 6.00%

Ecopetrol S.A (NYSE: EC) shares currently have a dividend yield of 6.00%.

Ecopetrol S.A., an integrated oil company, engages in the exploration, development, and production of crude oil and natural gas. As of December 31, 2011, its proved reserves of crude oil and natural gas totaled 1,856.7 million barrels of oil equivalent. The company has a P/E ratio of 7.31.

The average volume for Ecopetrol S.A has been 615,100 shares per day over the past 30 days. Ecopetrol S.A has a market cap of $96.2 billion and is part of the energy industry. Shares are down 20.9% year to date as of the close of trading on Friday.

TheStreet Ratings rates Ecopetrol S.A as a buy. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its robust revenue growth, increase in net income, good cash flow from operations, expanding profit margins and largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had lackluster performance in the stock itself.

Highlights from the ratings report include:
  • The revenue growth came in higher than the industry average of 6.7%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues rose by 15.8%. This growth in revenue appears to have trickled down to the company's bottom line, improving the earnings per share.
  • The net income growth from the same quarter one year ago has exceeded that of the S&P 500 and the Oil, Gas & Consumable Fuels industry average. The net income increased by 0.8% when compared to the same quarter one year prior, going from $2,202.93 million to $2,220.02 million.
  • Net operating cash flow has significantly increased by 53.01% to $4,898.80 million when compared to the same quarter last year. In addition, ECOPETROL SA has also vastly surpassed the industry average cash flow growth rate of -23.86%.
  • 42.60% is the gross profit margin for ECOPETROL SA which we consider to be strong. Regardless of EC's high profit margin, it has managed to decrease from the same period last year. Despite the mixed results of the gross profit margin, EC's net profit margin of 20.48% significantly outperformed against the industry.
  • EC's debt-to-equity ratio is very low at 0.21 and is currently below that of the industry average, implying that there has been very successful management of debt levels. Despite the fact that EC's debt-to-equity ratio is low, the quick ratio, which is currently 0.63, displays a potential problem in covering short-term cash needs.

New From TheStreet: Jim Cramer's Protégé, Dave Peltier, only buys dividend stocks that have the potential for a 3% to 4% yield and 10% growth. Get his best picks for less than $50/year.

PPL

Dividend Yield: 4.50%

PPL (NYSE: PPL) shares currently have a dividend yield of 4.50%.

PPL Corporation, an energy and utility holding company, engages in the generation, transmission, distribution, and sale of electricity to wholesale and retail customers in the United States and the United Kingdom. The company operates in four segments: Kentucky Regulated, U.K. The company has a P/E ratio of 12.57.

The average volume for PPL has been 4,146,800 shares per day over the past 30 days. PPL has a market cap of $19.2 billion and is part of the utilities industry. Shares are up 14.3% year to date as of the close of trading on Friday.

TheStreet Ratings rates PPL as a buy. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its expanding profit margins, solid stock price performance, attractive valuation levels and notable return on equity. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had somewhat weak growth in earnings per share.

Highlights from the ratings report include:
  • 39.80% is the gross profit margin for PPL CORP which we consider to be strong. It has increased from the same quarter the previous year. Along with this, the net profit margin of 16.80% significantly outperformed against the industry average.
  • Looking at where the stock is today compared to one year ago, we find that it is not only higher, but it has also clearly outperformed the rise in the S&P 500 over the same period, despite the company's weak earnings results. Turning our attention to the future direction of the stock, it goes without saying that even the best stocks can fall in an overall down market. However, in any other environment, this stock still has good upside potential despite the fact that it has already risen in the past year.
  • The revenue fell significantly faster than the industry average of 13.0%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues fell by 40.2%. Weakness in the company's revenue seems to have hurt the bottom line, decreasing earnings per share.
  • The company's current return on equity has slightly decreased from the same quarter one year prior. This implies a minor weakness in the organization. Compared to other companies in the Electric Utilities industry and the overall market, PPL CORP's return on equity exceeds that of both the industry average and the S&P 500.

New From TheStreet: Jim Cramer's Protégé, Dave Peltier, only buys dividend stocks that have the potential for a 3% to 4% yield and 10% growth. Get his best picks for less than $50/year.

Other helpful dividend tools from TheStreet:

Editor's Note: TheStreet ratings do not represent the views of TheStreet's staff or its contributors. Ratings are established by computer based on metrics for performance (which includes growth, stock performance, efficiency and valuation) and risk (volatility and solvency). Companies with poor cash flow or high debt levels tend to earn lower ratings in our model.

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