Earnings season is upon us, as many of the world's largest and most influential corporations are turning in their quarterly report cards. Earnings season can make the stock market feel like a casino more than anything else, because investors who demand outperformance every single quarter concentrate on the short term.
Long-term investors turn to buying high-quality dividend stocks trading at fair or better prices. These are stocks like the 50 Dividend Aristocrats, which have 25 or more years of increased dividend payments.
Let's look at four rock-solid dividend growth stocks that are good buys regardless of short-term earnings season mania.
1. Walt Disney (DIS)
Disney stock closed Monday at $104.60, which is significantly less than its 52-week high of $122. The stock's decline from its highs last year has compressed its price-to-earnings ratio to less than 20. For a company as strong as Disney, that P/E seems too low.
Walt Disney is one of the world's most recognizable brands. It has a large and diversified business across several segments, including television and cable networks, a cruise line, theme parks, consumer merchandise and a very successful movie studio.
In addition, Disney has an extremely capable management team. Management has made a number of great moves to grow the business in recent years. It acquired Lucasfilm, Marvel and Pixar to boost its movie studio. It also invested to expand its theme parks around the world, and it has doubled the size of its cruise line.
It almost seems unfair that one company owns the Star Wars, X-Men and Frozen and the Mickey Mouse brands (among many others).
The cheap valuation comes from investor unwillingness to pay a premium price for Walt Disney stock because of concerns about the company's flagship cable network property ESPN.
ESPN has reported falling subscriber rates, which has stoked fears that subscribers are cutting their cords and abandoning cable networks. Investors are very concerned that declining subscribers will continue as more consumers opt for cheaper streaming services instead of high-priced cable bundles.
Plainly stated, investors are overstating this risk. That is because ESPN remains the leader in live sports. Unlike television shows and movies, consumers want to watch sports events when they happen, which means demand for ESPN remains strong.
Disney management stated on last quarter's conference call that 95% of Americans with a multichannel bundle watched sports, and 81% of those viewers watched ESPN content. Across all of its platforms, more than 200 million adults use ESPN in some form in an average month.
Last quarter, Disney revenue grew 14% and adjusted earnings per share rose 28%. Those are excellent growth rates. In all, Disney has 11 different franchises that each generate at least $1 billion in annual sales.
Based on its continued growth and cheap valuation, Disney stock is an attractive buy. Dividend investors should focus on the company's growth, not its lower than average dividend yield of 1.4%, because low-dividend-yield stocks fit well into dividend growth portfolios.
2. Boeing (BA)
Boeing stock currently trades for a price-to-earnings ratio of 17.6. This is because its stock price has declined 12% in the past year.
Investors are worried about the slowdown in the global economy, driven by declining growth in emerging markets such as China. This threatens to weigh on Boeing, which is a cyclical industrial. Boeing's profits are closely tied to the health of the global economy.
But Boeing still generated 6% revenue growth last year. It now generates annual sales of $96 billion. The company navigated a challenging global economy last year.
In the past several years Boeing shifted focus from military and defense operations to the commercial aircraft market. Management did this in anticipation of declining global defense budgets. In an environment of falling military spending across the world, this strategy was the right course to take. Its commercial aircraft business was its fastest-growing segment last year, with revenue up 10%. Meanwhile, Boeing's military aircraft revenue was flat for the year.
Since 68% of Boeing's annual revenue now comes from commercial aircraft, the company is well-positioned for future revenue and earnings growth since global demand for aircraft is still growing. Boeing's commercial aircraft deliveries rose 5% in 2015 and hit a record for the company. In addition, it ended last year with a $489 billion backlog.
Investors should view Boeing favorably because the company generates significant free cash flow, which it uses to reward shareholders with dividends and buybacks.
It generated $6.9 billion of free cash flow in 2015, up 4% year over year. In December, Boeing raised its dividend by 20% and announced a $14 billion stock buyback.
Boeing stock has a 3.3% dividend yield, which is significantly greater than the S&P 500 dividend yield of around 2%. Its above-average yield and modest valuation should be viewed attractively by income investors.
3. Wells Fargo (WFC)
Wells Fargo stock is very cheap. The price-to-earnings ratio is just 12, even though Wells Fargo has an entrenched position in its industry and a future growth catalyst.
It is the nation's third-largest bank by assets, but investors are highly pessimistic about the future. The concern is that big banks such as Wells Fargo will continue to lose money from loans to the energy sector.
Fortunately, Wells Fargo is not highly exposed to oil and gas firms. Net charge-offs were $886 million last quarter, up $178 million year over year. Its provision for credit losses exceeded net charge-offs by $200 million last quarter. But energy-related losses were somewhat mitigated by strong growth in loans and deposits, which were up 7% and 4%, respectively.
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Wells Fargo grew revenue by 4% last quarter, but earnings per share fell 4.8% year over year. Still, the company earned $5.5 billion in profit just last quarter. It generates more than enough in profit to reward shareholders with a hefty dividend, and the stock yields 3%. Wells Fargo is one of Warren Buffett's top high-yield holdings.
One positive catalyst for shareholders to look forward to would be higher interest rates. Banks such as Wells Fargo benefit from rising rates, because they earn more on longer-term investments. The increase in interest income more than offsets the extra money paid on short-term deposits.
As a result, Wells Fargo will likely see earnings growth accelerate if interest rates continue to rise in the U.S., and the Federal Reserve has indicated it will raise rates again at some point this year.
Wells Fargo is a very cheap stock, but may not stay this cheap for long.
4. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)
Johnson & Johnson is one of the most famous dividend stocks of all time. It has earned this reputation with decades of uninterrupted dividend growth.
Johnson & Johnson is a Dividend Aristocrat, and has raised its dividend for an amazing 53 years in a row. This gives Johnson & Johnson a place on the complete Dividend Kings list. These are dividend stocks with 50 or more consecutive years of dividend increases. The stock currently has a 2.7% dividend yield, which is better than the average yield for the S&P 500.
The stock has a price-to-earnings ratio of 20.6, but considering the strength of its underlying business, Johnson & Johnson seems undervalued. It is one of the strongest brands in the world. The company maintains the world's sixth-largest consumer health products company, the sixth-largest biologics company, the fifth-largest pharmaceutical company and a medical device company.
According to Johnson & Johnson, approximately 70% of its revenue comes from products that take the No. 1 or No. 2 market position in their categories. This provides a great deal of stability to earnings.
Going forward, Johnson & Johnson should have little trouble raising its dividend for years to come. It is one of only three companies to hold a triple-A credit rating from Standard & Poor's, and it is seeing growth across multiple businesses.
Last year, Johnson & Johnson's net sales declined 5.7%, but the strong dollar did most of the damage. The rising dollar is significantly reducing sales for companies that do business overseas. Moreover, on an operational basis, adjusted earnings per share increased 5.8% for the year.
All three of Johnson & Johnson's reporting segments grew revenue last year. On an operational basis, worldwide medical device sales rose 2.5%, consumer products sales grew 4% and pharmaceutical sales were up 11%.
Johnson & Johnson management expects another great year in 2016. Organic sales are expected to grow another 2.5%-3.5% this year. Earnings are projected to grow 5.3%-7.7%, which is solid growth in a challenging global economy.
As a result, the company should have no trouble passing along regular dividend increases for many years to come.