Why You Should Own Ex-Dividend Stocks Whole Foods and American Express

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Shares of high-end grocer Whole Foods Market (WFM) and credit card company American Express (AXP) are both scheduled to go ex-dividend June 30. To qualify for a dividend check, investors must own shares of either company prior to July 2, if playing the strategy known as dividend capture.

The strategy consists of buying stocks for the sole purpose of collecting the quarterly dividend and then immediately selling the stock within days after the dividend cash payment has been paid the company. In this case, Whole Foods is scheduled to pay its 13-cent quarterly payout July 14, while American Express investors will have to wait until August 10 to receive their check, paying 29 cents a share.

Whether in bear or bull markets, dividend Capture, also known as buying dividend, can be a lucrative strategy that lessens risk associated with holding stocks for the long term.

In the case of Whole Foods and American Express, however, holding for the long term can also be rewarding. With both stocks having suffered considerable punishment in the first six months of the year, they make solid bounce-back candidates for the second half of 2015.

Consider first the merits of Whole Foods. 

WFM Chart
WFM data by YCharts

Austin, Tex.-based Whole Foods prides itself on organic and natural foods. But the company's stock has starved investors so far in 2015.

Competition from cheaper alternatives sold at the likes of Kroger (KR) and Walmart (WMT) has pressured Whole Foods' profits, sending its shares down almost 18% on the year. But this makes Whole Foods more compelling for the second half of 2015 -- and beyond.

More consumers are moving toward healthier lifestyle and eating habits, which should benefit Whole Foods' ability to grow sales. What's more, Whole Foods has begun to fight competition by embracing smaller store models that are more user friendly among many shoppers.

The smaller stores can not only help Whole Foods generate higher consumer traffic, but also lower costs. This concept has worked for both Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Starbucks (SBUX). The company ended its second quarter with a total of 417 stores, but plans to grow its store count 20% in the next two years.


This means in the quarters and years ahead, Whole Foods will improve same-store sales since its existing stores will be balanced by the newer ones. Higher worker wages, a byproduct of a healthy economy, are likely to spur more spending on higher quality food products, which should also help Whole Foods over the next 12-18 months. 

So with Whole Foods stock down 20% on the year, and down 13% in the past three years, now would be the time to buy.

While the stock does have a consensus analyst hold rating, its average 12-month price target of $65 suggests better than 16% gains from current levels. When combined with its annual dividend yield of 1.30%, the risk versus reward on Whole Foods favors the positive side -- whether buying just for the dividend capture or as a contrarian long-term play.

American Express has languished as the worst-performing component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) for most of 2015.

With the Dow up almost 2% on the year, American Express shares are down 14%.

The company's struggles can be linked to having lost its exclusive relationships with the likes of Costco (COST) and JetBlue (JBLU). It hasn't helped that the U.S. Justice Department issued a ruling, stating the company violated antitrust laws in its dealings with merchants.

But all this negative press is already priced into American Express stock.

It would seem the market is changing its tune. Since American Express stock hit a 52-week low of $76.53 on April 17, the shares have rebounded more than 6%. And with the stock still priced on the expectation of little to no growth, this lessens the investment risk on shares for the next 12 to 18 months.

At just 14 times earnings, against a P/E of 21 for S&P 500 (SPX), American Express shares seem too cheap to ignore. By contrast, both rivals Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA), trade at P/Es of 30 and 29, respectively.

If American Express which earned $5.39 a share in its last fiscal year, traded on par with the rest of the market (P/E of 21), the stock would be valued today at around $113 instead of $81. Never-mind its value when applying a P/E of 30 like Visa.

This would explain why the stock still has a consensus analyst buy rating and an average 12-month price target of $87.50, suggesting 7% gains from current levels.

Granted, 7% stock gains in 12 months isn't overwhelming.

But with the company announcing plans to cut 6% of its workforce, what American Express saves from lower expenses can boost profits in the quarters ahead.

This can put American Express on course to reach its high analyst target of $99, suggesting gains of more than 22%. Combined with its annual dividend yield of 1.40%, that's excellent value, making American Express stock one you don't want to leave home without.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no shares in any of the stocks mentioned.

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