Editors' pick: Originally published Sept. 7 and updated and republished with market activity midday Sept. 8.
Every dividend investor wants the highest yields and fastest income growth.
It's even better if the stock has a low payout ratio and a below average price-to-earnings ratio. Super high yields can be great, but sometimes it is better to drop down a notch in yield to find the perfect balance.
Using our Dividend Safety Scores, we found 10 stocks that fit this description, including a number of financial companies that stand to benefit from higher interest rates.
1. Viacom (VIAB)
Viacom is a global entertainment industry colossus making programs for TV, motion pictures, video games, consumer products and a whole lot of other entertainment content.
Its Media Network brands are especially geared to the prime youth market and include MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, SPIKE, BET, Nickelodeon and many others.
Filmed Entertainment includes Viacom owned Paramount Studios. This group covers a wide swath of financing and production of motion pictures both for theatrical and TV release.
At first glance, it may appear that Viacom is in one line of business: entertainment. However, the Media Network side that accounts 80% of revenues is the bread and butter business currently making all the money. It is sensitive to advertising revenues but otherwise provides a relatively stable income.
The Filmed Entertainment business on the other hand is a boom and bust proposition with a few successful releases offsetting the majority of films that either have little or nothing to show in the way of profits.
Viacom faces the same industry challenges as competitors such as The Walt Disney Company, 21st Century Fox, and Time Warner. The entertainment audience is increasingly fragmented.
The Internet and alternatives such as YouTube are shortening the attention span as well as the size of audiences. A broad base of programming and motion pictures is a handy weapon during these times.
Viacom gets very solid marks for Dividend Safety, Growth and yield. This is highly unusual for any company in the entertainment industry. This stability makes for appeal even to conservative investors seeking safe retirement income.
The current $1.60 per share annual dividend payout offers investors a well above average 4.1% yield. The company began paying quarterly dividends in 2010, so there is a lack of established policy to base payment expectations.
Thus far, dividend investors have been treated well. The company's quarterly dividend has increased 60% since 2011, and management last raised the dividend by more than 20% in 2015.
Having a low payout ratio that has held around 20% of free cash flow is very good. It shows the company has enough remaining in the bank to finance operations and service its $12 billion in long-term debt that amounts to 73% of total capital.
2. Royal Bank of Canada (RY)
Royal Bank of Canada is Canada's largest indigenous bank with $826 billion in assets and ranks #2 in return on assets with a return of 1.17%. The company places 13th largest on a global scale.
Royal Bank of Canada serves over 16 million personal, business and corporate clients across a diversified mix of industries in 40 countries. The company's five business segments include Personal & Commercial Banking (52% of sales), Capital Markets (24%), Wealth Management (11%), Insurance (7%), and Investor & Treasury Services (6%).
Although 63% of Royal Bank of Canada's $35 billion-plus in revenues are Canadian in origin, 19% comes from the U.S. and 18% from other markets.
It is easy to draw a comparison between Royal Bank of Canada in Canada and JPMorgan Chase in the US. Royal Bank of Canada strives to offer total personal banking services using progressive technology and a wide availability of branches to attract and retain customers.
It ranks No. 1 in investment fund management and claims leadership in the high net worth market. Maximizing market share in Canada is important to Royal Bank of Canada's global standing considering the relatively small Canadian population of 36 million.
The company's global footprint is expanding in the U.S. with the acquisition of Los Angeles-based City National Bank late in 2015. For $5 billion in cash and stock, Royal Bank of Canada gets $33.5 billion in assets and important entree to City National's prestigious entertainment industry personal and business clients.
Royal Bank of Canada's strategy is showing reasonable results. Revenues have compounded at a 3.2% average rate over the past five years. Generally speaking, this appears to be a tick above many of Royal Bank of Canada's U.S. based counterparts.
During the financial crisis, Royal Bank of Canada's business shrunk 24%. However the company held its dividend flat. The company appears to be sensitive to the broader economy and should be approached with some caution but at least had the financial strength to continue paying dividends. Royal Bank of Canada's stock returned -41% in 2008, underperforming the S&P 500 by four percentage points.
The current $2.55 per share annual payout offers investors a healthy 4.1% yield. A quarterly dividend has been paid consecutively for more than 20 years and typically runs about 45% of earnings-per-share (EPS), which is also the present payout ratio.
Balance sheets of financial companies are important to watch as the strength of assets is always affected by the quality of lending portfolios and this can be sensitive to rapidly changing economic conditions. So having a steady dividend policy that has survived several economic cycles provides added security.
3. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CM)
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce has a regal sounding name but that doesn't mean the company is the king of Canadian banking. In fact, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce ranks No. 5 in the land of hockey with just under $400 billion in assets but the third best return on assets at 1.03%.
Based in Toronto, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce was founded nearly 150 years ago in 1867. So it has seen it share of economic cycles.
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is a fairly typical bank organization. Retail and Business banking represent the bread and butter (54% of revenues and 45% of income), and Wealth Management (26% and 34%) and Capital Markets (20% and 21%) make up the remainder.
CM has an annual earnings growth target of 5%-to-10% on average. This is faster than the underlying economic growth in the company's various markets. To accomplish this objective, good cash flow will be necessary for internal operations and for acquisitions.
In the core banking business, the company prides itself in technological leadership in mobile banking claiming the top independent ranking of the five largest Canadian retail banks. It must be doing something right since revenue from retail fees is at record levels while profits are close by.
The challenge will be for success in cross selling retail and business customers to asset management services. Since this tends to be a slow process, don't be surprised to see acquisitions of independent asset managers as a solution to growth.
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce has not missed a regular dividend since its first payout in 1868. Even with a 42% drop in 2008 revenues during the peak of the financial crisis, CM managed to maintain positive free cash flow and continue paying dividends.
Bank financial statements require close examination and a lot of trust in management's ability to price risk. It is important to follow cash flow since reported earnings can become distorted by non-cash charges and credits.
The current $3.71 per share annual payout offers investors a well above average 4.6% yield, representing a 16% ratio of Free Cash Flow. Considering the company's dividend track record, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is likely a good bet for safe income barring a major economic shock.
4. Host Hotels & Resorts (HST)
If you are a billionaire or related to one, stay in luxury hotels, and travel to exotic resorts, you already know Host Hotels & Resorts.
Host Hotels & Resorts is a self-managed REIT with a wealth of properties for the well to do lifestyle. By their annual report description: "...properties are ideally situated in the heart of business districts. They line the most breathtaking coastlines and beaches."
The portfolio breaks down to over 100 upper scale properties mostly located in the U.S. with 17 situated in getaway destinations, from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico and New Zealand.
As a REIT, Host Hotels & Resorts must payout at least 90% of its taxable income to avoid getting stuck paying Federal Income Tax. This simply means more cash is made available to pay investors.
The global resort and lodging industry is capital intensive and loaded with competition. The quest to attract the world's wealthiest travelers both for business and leisure involves high stakes.
Economic cycles do affect spending patterns of even the most financially insulated people. So it is both noteworthy and important that leverage be kept under control and that the business is managed to achieve favorable operating margins.
During the financial crisis revenues fell 19%, and management was forced to cut its dividend. Host Hotels & Resorts's stock returned -53% in 2008, underperforming the S&P 500 by 16 percentage points and suggesting it could disappoint again in the event of another bear market.
Since that period the company has proceeded cautiously with respect to property acquisitions, working long-term debt down from 51% of total capital to 36%. In the process, operating margins have staged a partial recover indicating the company has ample cash flow to keep its properties up to high standards.
The current $0.80 per share dividend offers investors a well above average 4.7% yield. The quarterly dividend has quadrupled since late 2011. For investors seeking adventure, HST requires your attention. For those looking for predictability, other stocks may be a better choice.
5. Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS)
Bank of Nova Scotia is Canada's most profitable bank with a 1.20% return on assets, and in terms of asset size, its $668 billion ranks No. 2.
Bank of Nova Scotia serves 23 million customers and employs a team of 89,000. The bank sports a network of 3,100 market branches and thousands of ATM machines. Services include personal and commercial banking, wealth management and private banking, corporate and investment banking, and capital markets.
Bank of Nova Scotia organizes its activities into three groups: Canadian Banking (50% of sales), International Banking (27%) and Global Banking and Markets (23%).
Scotiabank, as it is popularly known, is engaged in the highly competitive world of retail banking, knocking heads at every step with market leader Royal Bank. The objective is always the same: Capture the customer first and then maximize so called "share of wallet".
The competitive environment also requires consideration of changing technology that is forcing the entire industry to reinvent its retail platform. The fact that Bank of Nova Scotia has acquired a large retail business while maintaining the No. 2 rank in profitability suggests they are doing something right.
Bank of Nova Scotia is making a global push into credit cards. In recent times Bank of Nova Scotia has purchased the card business in Canada from JPMorgan, and Citibank's retail & commercial banking operations in Peru, Panama and Costa Rica and others in Chile. The credit card business holds greater risks of customer default as well as far higher interest margins than traditional retail banking.
Scotiabank has increased its dividend in 43 of the last 45 years and boasts one of the most consistent dividend growth track records of any Canadian firm. The company has paid dividends to shareholders every year since it was founded in 1832.
The current $2.27 per share annual payout offers investors a well above average 4.2% yield. The current dividend appears to possess at least average safety.
The current payout ratio is a moderate 50% of EPS. The company does not appear to have a set policy with the payout ratio, which has ranged from 42% to 64% over the last decade.
6. BT Group PLC (BT)
If you are in the UK or one of 170 countries, the name BT Group is as familiar its predecessor, British Telecom. The former government-owned telecom utility is now into offering a full compliment of fixed-line, broadband, mobile and Television products and services.
It delivers these services through six business groups: Global Services, Business and Public Sector, Consumer, EE, Wholesale and Ventures and Openreach. In its present form, the company was incorporated and headquartered in London in 2001.
Fewer than a dozen players indirectly control the global communications market. In many countries the market is increasingly reaching maturity, resulting in slower growth.
This still leaves half of the world's population either un-served or under served. This is especially accurate when consideration is given to mobile and Internet services.
The amount of capital required to enter, compete and operate in this arena is great and is almost always influenced by government regulation. So the big are likely to get even bigger.
BT Group has a long history paying a semi-annual dividend. The current payout of $0.96 offers investors a 3.7% yield.
For a utility, BT's payout has been more volatile than average. The current payout is nearly 50% greater than 2009 but 45% below peak 2014 levels. The current payout ratio is a moderate 42% of EPS and 40% of free cash flow, which provides support to the dividend.
7. Manulife Financial Corp (MFC)
Manulife Financial is not a bank but a diversified financial services company based in Toronto that draws its origins to 1887.
It collects $34 billion in revenues by selling life and health insurance, providing financial advice and asset management solutions both to individuals and institutions in Canada (31% of sales), the U.S. (37%) and Asia (32%). Insurance and financial products are marketed under well-recognized brand names like Manulife, New York Life, Standard Life, John Hancock and others
Insurance is a highly regulated industry with capital requirements and loads of paperwork acting as barriers to entry. Product marketing is another hurdle, and sales force turnover is quite high.
To earn a profit, companies depend on interest rate spreads to cover operating and benefit expenses. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, interest spreads have reached historic lows.
As a result of these factors, the industry has been in a phase of consolidation in recent years. In the past year, Manulife Financial has been active acquiring both New York Life and Standard Life. Both acquisitions boosted assets and revenues on the insurance side as well as increasing investment assets under management by nearly 20%.
As these acquisitions are integrated into Manulife operations, there is likely to be headcount reduction created in order to increase efficiency and to cover the financial costs of these acquisition.
Manulife's current $0.57 per share payout offers investors a well above average 4.2% yield.
The company's low free cash flow payout ratio near 10% would usually imply strong safety. However, the company had to cut its dividend in half during the last recession and maintains meaningful financial leverage.
Ultra-conservative investors might do better elsewhere, but Manulife Financial would benefit if historically low interest rate spreads revert to more normal levels.
8. Sun Life Financial (SLF)
If you are in perfect health, live that way to 110 years old, and happen to be an heir to a billionaire's fortune, you probably have no need for Sun Life Financial.
For the rest of us that need the standard life and health insurance along with a whole bunch of specialty medical coverage like dental insurance short and long term disability, Sun Life has the broad array of products to cover most of life's risks. It doesn't matter if you are a family of few or a corporation that employs thousands, Sun Life has a solution.
Sun Life is the single brand applied to all services throughout the world. This includes its five operating segments: Sun Life Financial Canada (35% of sales), Sun Life Financial United States (12%), Sun Life Financial Asset Management (36%), Sun Life Financial Asia (17%), and Corporate (1%). By Canadian financial standards, Toronto based Sun Life is a relative newcomer having been founded in 1999.
Both the insurance and asset management industries are global in nature. Many different state and national laws present several minor barriers to entry to the insurance business. Few barriers prevent asset managers from hanging out their shingle and opening a new fund. This creates an industry structure of the few very large industry participants and the many smaller specialty companies.
Sun Life's $14 billion in revenues and roughly $900 billion in assets under management (AUM) put it in the middle of the industry. The company goal of becoming the market leader in each of it business segments results in a combination of slow internal growth and acquisitions.
According to the company's annual financial report, AUM has grown at an average annual rate of 18.1%, and total premium revenues grew by 3.5% annually. During this time, Operating EPS has risen from $3.21 per share to $3.68.
When it comes to dividend safety, it is always important to look closely at the balance sheet of financial companies as the condition can change with out much warning.
With Sun Life Financial, the ability to complete acquisitions without over-leveraging with debt or diluting existing shareholders is important. Over the years, long-term debt to total capital has hovered in the low 20% area and is presently even lower at 18%. This means the company is keeping lots of cash to operate its business while waiting for growth opportunities.
Since it's founding in 1999, the company has paid a quarterly dividend that currently amounts to an annual payout of $1.24 per share for a yield of 4.0%. Based on free cash flow, the payout ratio is a modest 17%.
As with many financial companies where returns can have above average volatility, Sun Life's payout ratio is unpredictable having ranged from 15% to 143%.
Investors should approach financial companies with some caution, but at least Sun Life has a solid track record and paid stable dividends throughout the financial crisis.
9. Toronto Dominion (TD)
TD, as it's known, is Canada's second largest home grown bank ranked on the basis of its $812 billion in assets but among the least profitable among the majors with a modest 0.93% return on assets.
The Toronto-Dominion Bank was founded in 1855 and is headquartered in Toronto. The organization chart has three components: Canadian Retail, U.S. Retail and Wholesale Banking.
Canadian Retail (64% of sales) provides a full range of financial products and services to customers including credit cards, auto finance, wealth, and insurance businesses to nearly 15 million customers at 1,165 branches, 3,153 ATM's.
U.S. Retail (26%) is carried out by TD Bank offering auto financing services, and wealth management services to over 8 million customers through 1,298 branches ATM machines.
Wholesale Banking (10%) includes a wide range of capital markets and investment banking under the TD Securities name.
TD's basic customer looks to the company less as a traditional place to deposit their paycheck and more as a combination bank and securities broker.
Even so, interest income accounts for about 65% of the bank's total income, making TD every bit as influenced by interest spreads as any plain vanilla bank.
TD's dividend is considered to be very safe, even despite the company's sensitivity to the broader economy (earnings fell 30% in fiscal year 2009).
The current $1.69 per share payout offers investors a 3.7% yield. A regular quarterly dividend has been paid for more than 20 years, and annual dividend growth has been 9.3% over the past 10 years.
Considering the company's dividend track record and reasonable payout ratio near 50%, TD's dividend is likely a good bet for the future.
10. Metlife (MET)
MetLife is one of the oldest and most enduring companies in America, drawing its origins to 1863 in New York City.
Over the past 150+ years it has grown from a simple provider of life insurance and annuities (60% of sales) to a financial colossus that extends to employee benefits and asset management products and services.
From its famous Park Avenue location, MetLife reaches 90 million customers. This includes over 60 countries in Asia, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East that adds to nearly 30% of its business.
The insurance and financial services industry is highly competitive in all respects. Great importance is placed on attracting new retail and corporate customers since longevity is a key to success in the main insurance and annuity segments of MetLife's business.
At the same time, adequate reserves must be maintained to meet eventual policy payments to beneficiaries. MetLife earns its income making actuarial assumptions and earning an interest spread in the interim.
Low interest rates combined with historically narrow interest spreads have disrupted fixed income markets for the past several years. As long-term fixed income investments have matured, insurance companies have been hard pressed to reinvest these proceeds as profitably.
For MetLife this has caused the company to alter actuarial assumptions and change reserve practices that was announced with the most recent quarterly performance. During this period, the company's revenues fell by 2% to $17 billion and per share profits by 93% to $0.06.
MetLife has paid dividends either to policyholders or stockholders for more than 90 years with regular increased over the past four.
Yes, the financial industry is going through difficult times but it is not the first. During the financial crisis in 2008, MetLife's profits posted negative growth of 24%. However, the company consistently paid dividends during this period.
The company's payout ratio is just 41% of EPS and only 13% of Free Cash Flow. This is unusually low even for insurance companies that are required to maintain adequate reserves for policyholder payments.
MetLife's balance sheet is not particularly leveraged, and profitability margins are above average. Operating margins at 10.7% are the highest in nearly five years as are the 6% return on invested capital and 8% return on equity. These factors suggest the dividend is in good shape.
MetLife's stock has seriously underperformed the general market over the last year, driving up the $1.60 per share payout to an above average 3.7% yield.
Over the past decade, dividends have compounded at an 11% average annual rate and by 14.9% over the past five years. If the company can continue to grow dividends and the stock price recovers, MetLife could offer investors attractive total return.