No doubt about it, yesterday was a stellar day for stocks. Tuesday's huge 2.39% rally in the S&P 500 made a huge dent in the red ink that stocks have been swimming in so far this year. But don't think for a second that the recent rebound in the S&P makes dividends less important for 2016.
When capital gains are working as a contributor to portfolio performance, investors often forget about dividends. But that's a big mistake. Without dividends, the S&P 500's performance this year would have been 44% worse than it is now -- and even if market prices continue to tick higher from here, they could add up to a critical contribution to your portfolio in 2016.
It's not just me saying so. According to research from Morgan Stanley, dividends have contributed more than 41% of the stock market's total returns over the last eight decades. But, to find the biggest benefit from dividends, it's not enough to simply buy names with big payouts today. You've got to think about which names are going to be paying more tomorrow too.
So instead of chasing yield, we'll try to step in front of the next round of stock payout hikes. Even better, we'll focus our search on potential dividend hikers that are actually "working" in 2016, providing positive capital gains and dividends year-to-date.
For our purposes, that "crystal ball" is composed of a few factors: namely a solid balance sheet, low payout ratio and a history of dividend hikes. While those items don't guarantee dividend announcements in the next month or three, they do dramatically increase the odds that management will hike their cash payouts to shareholders. And they've helped us grab onto dividend hikes with a high success rate in the past.
Without further ado, here's a look at five big stocks that could be about to increase their dividend payments in the next quarter. Think of it as your dividend preview.
Up first on our list is $56 billion consumer products manufacturer Colgate-Palmolive (CL - Get Report) . For the last four straight quarters, Colgate has paid out a 38-cent dividend check to investors that adds up to a 2.26% yield. But Colgate's rising profits have meant that the firm's dividend payout ratio has been falling to the lowest levels in recent years. That makes a dividend hike look likely for Colgate this month.
Colgate-Palmolive is one of the biggest household products manufacturers on the planet, with a stable of brands that includes namesakes Colgate and Palmolive, as well as brands such as Softsoap, Speed Stick and Hill’s Science Diet pet food. That defensive posturing in the consumer staples sector has been a major reason why this stock is one of the minority of S&P components that's actually up year-to-date. That bullish momentum is likely to continue as the broad market rebounds heading into March.
There are some black clouds at Colgate, of course. The biggest is the strength of the dollar. Since Colgate earns approximately 80% of its overall revenues abroad, a persistently strong dollar has been a major headwind that's translated into a nearly 12% negative impact on sales last quarter. Despite that earnings drag, the strong dollar is a trend that's getting long in the tooth, and that leaves the potential for a reversal in dollar strength as a possible future tailwind for sales.
In the meantime, Colgate looks ready to hand investors a bigger paycheck in 2016.
Computer storage giant EMC (EMC) is another stock that's managed to keep its head above water so far in 2016. Year-to-date, EMC is up 3.4%, outpacing the broad market by a wide margin. That margin could be about to get even wider soon; after eight straight quarters of paying out an 11.5-cent per share quarterly dividend, EMC looks likely to give shareholders a raise.
EMC is one of the leaders in enterprise data storage, providing software and hardware that helps companies put their data in the cloud and keep it there. That's a hot market right now. As demands for data capacity continue to increase across the board, demand for data storage and analysis solutions should remain high. That fact helps offset some of the competition that other enterprise IT vendors are throwing into the marketplace right now.
EMC's leadership role in the computer storage business, and a big installed base, should continue to give the firm a perceptible advantage in the fight for enterprise dollars. Likewise, EMC's balance sheet looks advantageous for investors right now: the firm currently carries more than $8 billion in net cash and investments on the books, enough to pay for approximately 16% of EMC's market value at current price levels.
That deep cash reserve makes EMC more likely to play catch-up with its dividend in 2016.
Off-price retailer TJX (TJX - Get Report) is another defensive stock that's holding up well in 2016. Shares are up 6.4% since the calendar flipped to January. Make no mistake, TJX isn't a dividend stock by any stretch. The firm's 21-cent quarterly dividend currently adds up to just a 1.1% yield at current price levels. But management has made it a mission to boost its shareholder yield through dividend payments and share buybacks, growing the former every year for the last 19 years.
TJX is one of the biggest discount retail chains in the world, with a collection of store brands that includes T.J. Maxx, Marshall's, Sierra Trading Post and HomeGoods. The firm operates approximately 3,400 stores worldwide. The off-price retail game comes with a heck of a business model. The firm's stores stock major brand name clothing, accessories and housewares at dramatic discounts to their full-price retail costs. It manages that by buying massive unsold inventory from the full-price retailers, helping them clear their shelves, while giving consumer the chance to pick up desirable brands on the cheap.
In the middle of that transaction, TJX collects a fat markup -- enough to end up with net margins just under 8% last quarter. Financially, TJX is in good shape. The firm currently carries more than $823 million in cash and investments, enough to smooth any financial hiccups it hits along the way.
That total lack of balance sheet leverage also means that TJX has more cash flows to devote to paying shareholders, not lenders. Look for a dividend hike in the near term.
Talk about defensive. While the rest of the market has been underwater for all of 2016, shares of $19 billion food stock Campbell Soup (CPB - Get Report) have been in rally-mode. In the first eight weeks of 2016, Campbell Soup is up 16.3% -- or about 17% if dividends are factored in. That return could be headed even higher for Campbell Soup in the quarter ahead; the firm looks likely to announce a dividend hike in the near-term.
Campbell Soup is one of the biggest manufactures of processed foods in the country, with a collection of brands that includes Pace, Prego, Swanson and Pepperidge Farm in addition to the eponymous Campbell's brand. As a result, the firm's focus extends well beyond soups; only a third of total sales are soup products. The balance of Campbell's portfolio ranges from crackers to juices. That product diversification gives Campbell Soup a defensive income statement position, and it enables the firm to spread distribution costs across a much larger range of products.
Financially, Campbell Soup is in good shape. The firm has spent recent quarters chipping away at its debt load, cutting its borrowings by almost 40% in the past year. That debt extinguishment, coupled with a big cash position, is a big risk reducer in this market. Campbell Soup has paid out a 31.2 cent per share quarterly dividend for the last ten straight quarters. Look for a potential boost to that payout in the coming quarter.
Last up on our list of defensive dividend hikers is $18 billion truck manufacturer Paccar (PCAR - Get Report) . Falling fuel prices having been a mixed blessing for Paccar in the last couple of years – while they haven't done much to encourage fleet operators to upgrade to newer, more efficient trucks, they have ballooned truck freight volumes, making trucks more competitive with traditionally cheaper modes of transport like rail. That fact is driving some lagging demand for new trucks in 2016.
Paccar is one of the biggest truck builders in the world. The firm makes trucks under the Peterbilt, Kenworth, and DAF names, selling vehicles through a network of about 2,000 dealers worldwide. Paccar's brands are well known for quality, which is particularly important in commercial trucking, where operators live and die by uptime stats. Between growing demand for freight services and an aging global truck fleet threatening uptime, Paccar is starting to see and upswing in truck and parts orders.
Higher profits at Paccar should translate into bigger profits for investors. Right now, the firm pays a 24-cent per share quarterly dividend that works out to a 1.82% yield at current price levels. Look for management to hike that payout later this year.