Even if you don't exactly fancy yourself an income investor, ignoring dividends is a big mistake this summer.
That's because dividends contribute a huge piece of your total returns over the long-run. And even over the not-so-long-run. Over the last 12 months, the big S&P 500 index has returned all of 1.6% on a price-only basis. Factor in reinvested dividends, and that performance climbs up to 3.9%. That's not an insignificant difference -- and it only gets bigger.
In fact, just over the last 10 years, dividends have accounted for almost half of the S&P 500's performance, handing investors the difference between 57.5% gains and 95.9% gains when reinvested dividends are factored in. 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.
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 coming months. Think of it as your dividend preview.
It's hard to think about dividends without thinking about Verizon Communications (VZ - Get Report) , one of the highest-yielding mega-cap stocks in the S&P. This $227 billion telco currently cuts a 56.5-cent quarterly dividend check for investors, a payout that adds up to just over a 4% yield at current prices. Thing is, that payout could be about to ratchet higher in the months ahead.
Verizon tips the scales as the biggest mobile phone carrier in the U.S., with more than 112 million wireless connections on its network. The firm is also the local phone company for approximately a quarter of the U.S., providing fixed line phone, TV, and internet services. As fixed-line internet competition heats up, Verizon has a big infrastructure advantage in its next-generation FiOS service, which brings fiber optic broadband to the home. While FiOS' implementation costs are significantly higher than rival services, customer satisfaction is also dramatically higher, and Verizon is finally earning some long-run returns on its investments.
Network size continues to be Verizon's biggest advantage. Because the firm can spread network upgrade costs for cellular towers and fixed-line installs across a massive base of subscribers, it's able to provide network quality that smaller rivals can't. Likewise, that high quality set of service offerings creates significant cross-selling potential for Verizon to offer other services such as TV, Internet and home phone.
Verizon has kept its dividend constant for the last four straight quarters, which makes a hike look likely in the quarter ahead.
Philip Morris International
So far, 2016 is shaping up to be a solid year for shares of $154 billion tobacco company Philip Morris International (PM - Get Report) . Year-to-date, this big cigarette stock has rallied almost 14%, leaving the rest of the broad market in its dust. And as we head into the second half of the year, the global environment looks good for Philip Morris' momentum to continue higher.
Philip Morris owns some of the best-known brands in the tobacco business, including best-seller Marlboro. The firm is the second-biggest tobacco company in the world, with about 28% of the markets that it operates in. Notably absent from that list of countries is the U.S. Philip Morris International split apart from Altria (MO - Get Report) back in 2008, in an effort to break the high-growth international business from stagnant sales in the U.S. That means PM's growth isn't hampered by the demographic shift away from tobacco products here at home.
PM has been challenged by the strength of the dollar, however. Because the company generates revenues overseas and reports them in dollars, the rising value of the greenback has been a constant struggle for Philip Morris' earnings. The recent decline in the dollar in 2016 could be the start of something longer-term, in which case PM's headwind could be about to shear into a tailwind for profitability.
Meanwhile, the firm currently pays a $1.02 per share dividend check that adds up to a 4% yield. Investors should expect a raise next quarter.
Snack food giant Modelez International (MDLZ - Get Report) is another stock that looks ready to boost its dividend payout in the next month. Mondelez has paid out a 17-cent quarterly dividend for the past four straight quarters, a payout that adds up to a 1.5% annual yield at current price levels. While that doesn't exactly make Mondelez a "dividend stock," it's a big enough payout to contribute a meaningful chunk of this stock's total returns since it broke apart from the rest of Kraft in 2012.
Mondelez owns some of the best-known snack brands in your grocery store. The firm's products include Oreo cookies, Ritz crackers, Wheat Thins, and Trident gum -- as well as dozens of others. Unlike most publicly traded food stocks here at home, Mondelez is a truly international stock, with only 24% of sales coming from North America, and a whopping 40% generated in high-growth emerging markets. The segments that Mondelez competes in are relatively resistant to private label competition, particularly as consumers stay confident in the global economy. Like Philip Morris International, however, Mondelez hasn't been immune to the strength of the U.S. dollar, a black cloud that's beginning to show signs of abating.
Mondelez could be about to grow its exposure to the confectionary business if it can interest Hershey (HSY - Get Report) shareholders to a higher offer price than the $107 per share that the firm presented just a couple of weeks ago. Hershey's huge domestic exposure makes that pairing a good fit, but Mondelez will need to sweeten the pot to make it happen.
In the meantime, this stock's dividend payout ratio is the lowest it's been on a sustained basis since Mondelez became an independent company. That's extra evidence that we'll see a dividend hike this quarter.
American Airlines Group
Shares of $21 billion airline stock American Airlines Group (AAL) haven't exactly taken flight this year. Since the start of 2016, this big air carrier has seen its share price retreat 15%, a performance chasm that American's modest dividend payout hasn't come close to making up for. The good news for American Airlines' shareholders is that this stock is finally starting to show some signs of life this summer -- and it could help this big transportation company make up for lost time in the second half of the year.
American Airlines is one of the U.S. legacy carriers, with more than 6,700 flights daily to 350 worldwide destinations. Besides its core mainline business, American also owns three of its regional feeder airlines, Envoy, PSA, and Piedmont. The firm's fleet of 941 mainline aircraft is the biggest in the world, and it's been undergoing a major renewal, with hundreds of new aircraft on order.
Despite a lack of share price cooperation, 2016 remains a hugely attractive environment for airlines. With oil prices lingering just off of their lows this year, AAL's single biggest input cost, jet fuel, is cheaper than just about any analyst had accounted for 20 months ago. Likewise, air travel demand is rebounding, and airfares are beginning to show some upward mobility as well. All of those factors have played a part in the record profits the firm reported in the last year.
That, in turn, translates into American's ability to hike its dividend payout. American Airlines has held its 10-cent dividend constant since it was originally announced back in the summer of 2014. But with the firm's profits ballooning, a dividend raise finally looks prudent for American this year.
Last up on our list of potential dividend hikers is $20 billion food company Campbell Soup (CPB - Get Report) . Campbell Soup is one of the biggest convenience food manufacturers in the world, 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.
Like other food companies, tumbling input costs have provided a boost to profitability, even if it's only a transient one. The stronger financial positioning has given Campbell the ability to invest in new brands, including Bolthouse Farms, which notably adds exposure to the in-demand fresh foods segment to Campbell's income statement. International sales still only make up about 20% of overall revenues, a fact that could translate into reasonably low-hanging fruit if CPB decides to invest more resources into growth abroad.
Financially, Campbell Soup is in good shape. The firm currently carries just under $400 million in cash on its balance sheet, with a relatively tenable $2.5 billion long-term debt load. Campbell's reputation for being a defensive stock has extended to its dividend payout, which management has kept unchanged at 31.2 cents per quarter since late 2013.
At this point, Campbell looks overdue to give investors a raise. The next chance comes this quarter.