In the search for safe dividend stocks, high yield alone can be a trap. If you take on the risk of a dividend cut, a portfolio's returns can be significantly impaired.
However, if a company is generating solid earnings growth, then taking a lower yield today may not matter a few years from now. But how do you find companies with real, long-term dividend growth potential?
We start by looking for enduring brand names that are highly profitable and generate loads of cash. Here are seven of my favorite blue chip dividend stocks that have good yields and have been increasing their payouts for at least 40 straight years.
With Coca-Cola there is no need to sacrifice yield, growth or safety. Coca-Cola has it all and is one of Warren Buffett's biggest dividend stocks.
It starts with one of the world's best-known consumer brands. There is hardly a place in the world where the Atlanta-based company's product cannot be found. Even if such a place exists, the Coke name and familiar green swirl bottle is well known. The Coke brand is so ubiquitous, it overshadows the other 499 non-alcoholic beverages the company sells in over 200 countries. In addition to the flagship Coke brand, other brands include Diet Coke, Fanta and Sprite.
The company has a global network of bottlers, wholesale distributors, and marketing companies that Coke has been expanding for more than 100 years. Even with competition from the likes of PepsiCo and the hundreds of new beverage alternatives introduced each year, Coca-Cola remains the world's largest beverage company. It is also highly profitable generating huge amounts of cash. Operating margins are a generous 20%, and in each of the past three years, operations have generated over $10 billion in cash. Of Coke's $91 billion in total assets, almost 25% are in cash.
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What makes this even more impressive is the company's dividend payout ratio of 82% of earnings and 85% of free cash flow, which is reasonable for a company as stable as Coke. Even after growing the dividend consistently about 9% per year over the last 20 years, the money keeps piling up in Coke's bank account. The current $1.40 per share payout offers a 3.2% yield. The next increase will likely come at year-end 2016.
Little wonder Warren Buffett has had a long-term love affair with Coca-Cola. With yield, growth, and stability, Coke truly is "The Real Thing".
The Coca-Cola Company may have bragging rights to the single best known brand name in the world, but Procter & Gamble probably has the most.
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No company invests more on consumer research, product development and brand advertising than P&G. The long-standing philosophy is to pursue market dominance through superior quality and performance. Brand names like Tide, Pampers, Crest and Gillette can be found in over 180 countries. Ivory Soap is over 100 years old. Business outside the U.S. accounts for more than 60%. Business segments include Laundry and Household Cleaning (32%), Baby, Feminine and Family Care (29%), Beauty (18%), Grooming (10%), Healthcare (11%).
The P&G philosophy of market dominance is especially intense in the super highly competitive retail grocery drug and mass merchandise space. While there are many entrants, few have the power of the world's largest advertising and promotion budget.
P&G is a dividend machine sending out checks in every one of the last 124 years. In each of the last 58 years, there have been increases. Over the last 10 years, dividends have grown 9.2% annually and 6.8% per year in the last five years. P&G pays out a generous 84% of earnings but a more modest 59% of free cash flow, indicating that there is plenty of financial flexibility remaining. The annual payout of $2.68 offers investors a 3.1% yield.
A quarterly dividend have been paid for almost 100 years and increased annually for at least the last 43 years. This kind of dividend growth is effective medicine for your financial health.
Founded more than 130 years ago, J&J is one of Americas largest, most enduring pharmaceutical companies. In the competitive world of prize brand names, J&J is no slouch. It is one of the rare instances where the company name is as famous as many of its brands -- and that's saying a lot. Listerine, Band-Aid, Tylenol, Johnson's baby products and Neutrogena top a list of more than 100 global brands. The company's pharmacy and healthcare products hold equal name brand strength among doctors and other healthcare professionals.
The company has three major groups: Pharmaceutical (45%), Medical Devices (36%) and Consumer (19%). The Pharmaceutical Segment consists of 16 top selling prescription products. Only one of these, Remicade (used in the treatment of arthritis) represents as much as 9% of volume. The Medical Device business is highly diversified with leading positions in Orthopedics, Surgery, Vision Care, Cardiovascular and Diabetes Care.
The Food And Drug Administration in the U.S. and similar bodies in most countries regulate the healthcare industry. Gaining FDA approval for new products is both time and capital intensive. Through consolidation, the traditional oligopolistic competition is giving shifting to fewer giant players.
The last increase in the quarterly dividend was in April. The new annual dividend rate is $3.20 per share, providing a current yield of 2.6%. Dividend growth has been an above average 8.7% per year over the past 10 years and 6.9% annually over the past five years.
A safe retirement with J&J also means a growing payout. Here is why. J&J pays out just 56% of earnings and has more cash ($42.6 billion) than debt ($24 billion). The company is highly profitable (25% operating margins) and generates huge amounts of operating cash flow ($19 billion) each year. A payout ratio of as much as 75% would not harm the company's ability to achieve the 6.5% earnings growth anticipated in coming years.
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If The Coca-Cola Company has its focus on a single line of business, its arch-rival in the soft drink business is the complete opposite. PepsiCo is a leading global food and beverage company marketing products in over 200 countries. In addition to the Pepsi-Cola flagship brand, other key names include FritoLay, Gatorade, Quaker and Tropicana. Business is conducted through authorized bottlers, contract manufacturers and other third parties. That means less capital invested in fixed costs, and this is good for cash flow and dividends.
The business is managed by six groups: Frito-Lay North America (23%), Quaker Foods North America (4%), North American Beverages (33%), Latin America (13%), Europe Sub Saharan Africa (17%) and Asia Middle East/North Africa (10%)
For investors seeking income and growth, consumer packaged goods companies often provide the best of both worlds. The combination of high margins, excellent cash flow and products that are generally consumed rapidly, regularly and repeatedly make for good investment hunting. Pepsi is no exception. Operating margins and return on capital are constantly between 13%-15%, generating healthy cash flow for dividends.
The current annual payout of $3.01 per share offers investors a 2.8% yield. The company's dividend payout is just 53% of free cash flow, providing plenty of room for future income growth. Historical dividends have compounded 10.6% annually over the past decade and 7.9% per year during the last five years. The company most recently raised its dividend by 7% earlier this year and should have plenty of ability to continue dividend growth at a mid-single digit pace or faster going forward.
The distinction of the world's largest retailer goes to Walmart with its 11,000+ stores, $480+ billion in sales and $200 billion in assets. No one else in the public record comes anywhere close to matching what Sam Walton founded in July 1962. Walmart employs a staggering 2.3 million worldwide, making it also the biggest single employer anywhere. Online shopping has not slowed Walmart; it has adapted with its own Internet order and shipping capabilities.
Walmart has never been shy about using its leverage to force the lowest prices from suppliers. The company nurtures this low cost image and it helps keep loyal customers coming back again and again.
However, the days of rapid growth are well behind for the company. Foreign operations in only 27 countries leave room for growth. In reality though, the law of large numbers is taking over. Over the past few years, earnings per share have been growing less than 1% annually. But that does not mean an end to dividends or growth. Walmart has $7.6 billion in its bank account and debt is a mere 36% of total capital. There is lots of flexibility here.
The current $2 per share annual payout offers a yield of 2.7%. Here is a case where taking a lower current yield may work out better in the long run. Here is why. Dividend payments have compounded at 12.6% annually over the past decade and 10.1% over the past five. Due to the flattening in earnings, the payout ratio has inched up. But after starting from only 26% in 2011 it is still only 47%. If management does not need this for capital expansion, it will be under pressure to return more cash to shareholders.
Long referred to as a sin stock, Altria Group is fully engaged in the tobacco business. The company offers huge profits, cash flow and dividends. Demand is highly inelastic to price. This means consumption continues at five dollars per pack. Tobacco contributes over 98% of revenues and virtually all of profits.
The company's brands have some of the highest value for consumer awareness. Adding to brands like Marlboro and Kool, in recent years Altria has acquired smokeless company UST and Ste. Michelle Wines to add a nice bouquet to the product mix. The tobacco business throws off so much cash that is impossible to reinvest it all in tobacco. So Philip Morris Capital Corporation maintains an investment portfolio of income-producing assets.
For decades the tobacco industry has been subject to litigation and restrictions on consumption of all sizes and types. This has had some effect of reducing per capita consumption at least in the U.S. However, this has been more than offset by rising prices at the manufacturing level. Tobacco is truly a long-term cash cow.
History shows that smoking goes back thousands of years so it is not surprising that Altria has been around keeping long-term dividend investors happy with a growing dividend. The current payout of $2.26 per share offers investors a 3.4% yield.
Over the past 20 years dividend growth has averaged 2.9% annually and 8.2% over the past five. Cash continues to build even with an 82% EPS payout ratio. Free cash flow per share has more than doubled over the last five years to support sustainable dividend growth. Altria is a good example of getting a better than average yield and better than average income growth.
This 126-year-old company is in the middle of a restructuring, but Emerson's status as a preeminent dividend growth stock is far from being in jeopardy. Once these changes are complete, Emerson's rate of earnings growth should pick up, and that would be good news for dividend investors.
EMR's business is engineering and technology, serving customers on a global basis. Its customers include industrial, commercial and consumer markets. As of year-end 2015 there were five business units: Process Management, Industrial Automation, Network Power, Climate Technologies and Commercial/Residential.
The restructuring began last year when its InterMetro business was sold. A complete spin off of the network power systems business is on schedule to be completed in the third quarter of this year. These actions will result in Emerson's sales contracting to about $15 billion compared with $25 billion in the past. The company is also exploring other streamlining moves to position the company for growth.
Major corporate restructurings commonly reflect very low returns and weak balance sheets metrics. With Emerson, this is definitely not the case. Operating margins of 14.3% compare favorably, and the company has generated positive free cash flow each year for more than a decade. The balance sheet shows $3.5 billion in cash compared to a manageable debt burden of $7.3 billion as well. The spin-off should free up even more cash flow that can be used for more promising opportunities.
The current $1.90 per share dividend offers investors a 3.5% yield with well above average safety.
The dividend has increased for nearly 60 straight years and recorded annual growth of 8.3% and 7% over the last 10 and five years, respectively. The current payout ratios of 65% of EPS and 56% of Free Cash Flow are not excessive for a company undertaking restructuring. Here again there is no need to sacrifice. With Emerson Electric it is possible to have both above average yield and growth.