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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Dan Burrows, Contributing Writer
| October 2, 2019
You might start to hear more about the “Dividend Kings” over the next few months. Small wonder: Stocks that have boasted uninterrupted dividend growth for a half-century or more might be an ideal place to hide out amid increased economic uncertainty.
Sluggish global growth, rising recession risks and a stock market that hasn’t gone anywhere over the past 52 weeks have some market strategists banging the drum for quality stocks.
“A focus on quality stocks can allow investors to stay in the market to benefit from potential upturns, but with a measure of prudence built in to buffer downturns,” says Tony DeSpirito, head of BlackRock’s U.S. Income and Value team.
And nothing says quality more than stocks that haven’t missed a dividend hike in decades. “When a company is reliably able to boost its dividend for years or even decades, this may suggest it has a certain amount of financial strength and discipline,” says Tianyin Cheng, director of Strategy and Volatility Indices at S&P Dow Jones Indices.
Investors can find such dividend machines within the ranks of the Dividend Kings. You’ve surely heard of the Dividend Aristocrats — companies in Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index that have raised their payouts every year for a minimum of 25 consecutive years. The Dividend Kings are Aristocrats that have done it for at least 50.
Here, then, are the current 15 Dividend Kings. These have been among the best of the best dividend stocks for income growth since at least the late 1960s. Any company with that kind of track record clearly makes its dividend a top priority — and one that investors can count on through thick and thin.
Data and analysts’ ratings are of Oct. 1 unless otherwise noted. Companies are listed by dividend yield, from lowest to highest. The list of Dividend Aristocrats is maintained by S&P Dow Jones Indices. Dividend yields are calculated by annualizing the most recent quarterly payout and dividing by the share price. Dividend history based on company information and S&P data. Dividend-growth streaks include the current year if the company has announced a dividend hike in 2019. Analysts’ ratings provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Market value: $18.7 billion
Dividend yield: 1.9%
Consecutive annual dividend increases: 59
Analysts’ opinion: 2 strong buy, 1 buy, 5 hold, 0 sell, 1 strong sell
As Cincinnati Financial (CINF, $114.20) likes to point out, insurance companies are generally regarded as conservative, long-term investments. That certainly has been the case with CINF, which has one of the longest dividend-growth streaks among the Dividend Kings. Indeed, the property and casualty insurer on Feb. 1 lifted its payout for a 59th consecutive year. Its quarterly dividend swelled by 5.7%, to 56 cents per share.
Income investors can expect more where that came from.
MKM Partners analyst Harry Fong (Buy) lifted his price target on CINF to $120 per share back in May, citing the company’s excellent incentive compensation, as well as its “unique” and “specialty” relationship with its insurance agents.
The analyst community as a whole expects Cincinnati Financial to grow its profits by 3.4% annually over the next three to five years, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. While that’s a slower rate of earnings growth than it has recorded over the past five years (3.4%), it still should be enough to enable CINF to keep inflating its dividend.
Market value: $23.3 billion
Consecutive annual dividend increases: 53
Analysts’ opinion: 0 strong buy, 1 buy, 7 hold, 3 sell, 0 strong sell
Hormel (HRL, $43.62) is about as reliable as an income payer gets. The packaged food company best known for Spam — but also responsible for Hormel-brand chili and meats, Dinty Moore stews and House of Tsang sauces — has raised its annual payout every year for more than five decades.
Indeed, if past is prologue, Hormel is due to announce a 54th straight year of dividend increases in November. If so, it also would mark the 363rd consecutive quarterly dividend paid by the company.
Hormel is rightly proud to note that it has paid a regular quarterly dividend without interruption since becoming a public company in 1928. Even before it was a mature business, HRL made the payout a top priority.
Hormel might struggle with near-term headwinds, such as the African swine fever that’s sweeping the world’s pork markets. However, analysts are bullish on Hormel’s longer-term prospects, expecting profits to expand by an average of 5% annually over the next three to five years.
Market value: $21.1 billion
Consecutive annual dividend increases: 52
Analysts’ opinion: 7 strong buy, 4 buy, 8 hold, 1 sell, 0 strong sell
Power and hand toolmaker Stanley Black & Decker (SWK, $139.33) has paid a dividend for 143 years on an uninterrupted basis, and has increased it annually for more than half a century. Most recently, in July, SWK lifted the quarterly payout to 69 cents per share, up from 66 cents.
But this isn’t just some sleepy income stock. Analysts expect SWK to generate average annual earnings growth of 8.6% a year over the next three to five years, thanks not just to cost cuts, but a strategy of growth through mergers & acquisitions (M&A).
Stanley Black & Decker bought Newell Tools from Newell Brands (NWL) for $2 billion in 2016. In January 2017, it negotiated the purchase of Craftsman tools from Sears Holdings (SHLDQ) for a total of $775 million over three years and a percentage of annual sales. And in 2018, SWK announced the acquisition of IES Attachments for $690 million cash, as well as the $440 million purchase of Nelson Fastener Systems.
Market value: $40.7 billion
Dividend yield: 2.0%
Consecutive annual dividend increases: 50
Analysts’ opinion: 4 strong buy, 3 buy, 7 hold, 1 sell, 2 strong sell
Sysco (SYY, $79.36), a food services and restaurant supply company, also is generating growth via acquisitions. And like the other Dividend Kings on this list, SYY is a dividend-raising machine. The company already has five decades of payout increases under its belt, and it’s likely to notch its 51st straight year of dividend hikes in November.
As for M&A: In January 2019, Sysco bought Waugh Foods, an Illinois broadline distributor with approximately $40 million in annual sales. Other moves include its 2016 deal for European services and supplies company Brakes Group, as well as the Supplies on the Fly e-commerce platform that same year. In February 2018, it picked up Doerle Food Services, a Louisiana broadline distributor with approximately $250 million in annual foodservice distribution sales. Then in April 2018, the firm completed its acquisition of U.K.-based Kent Frozen Foods for an undisclosed sum.
However, Sysco has been able to generate plenty of growth on its own, too. A combination of organic and M&A-based growth has produced a steady ramp-up in revenues for years.
Looking forward, the pros expect profits to swell by 10.7% annually over the next half-decade. That should allow Sysco to keep up its streak of dividend growth.
Market value: $14.0 billion
Consecutive annual dividend increases: 64
Analysts’ opinion: 4 strong buy, 2 buy, 11 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Industrial conglomerate Dover (DOV, $96.27) just logged its 64th consecutive year of dividend increases with a modest hike. In August, DOV upped the ante by 2.1%, to 49 cents per share.
The company, which has its hands in all sorts of industries — from Dover-branded pumps, lifts and productivity tools for the energy business, to Anthony-branded commercial refrigerator and freezer doors — has always made the dividend No. 1. Its annual streak of dividend growth is the third-longest among publicly traded companies.
Dover doesn’t have the most exciting business, though it did garner some headlines in 2018. Under pressure from activist investor Daniel Loeb's Third Point hedge fund, Dover spun off its upstream energy business. Known as Apergy (APY), the spinoff began trading on the New York Stock Exchange in May 2018.
As for Dover, analysts project average annual earnings growth of more than 10% during the next three to five years.
Market value: $84.5 billion
Consecutive annual dividend increases: 57
Analysts’ opinion: 18 strong buy, 4 buy, 10 hold, 1 sell, 0 strong sell
When it comes to home improvement chains, Dow Jones Industrial Average component Home Depot (HD) gets all the glory.
But No. 2 rival Lowe’s (LOW, $109.52) is the superior dividend grower.
Lowe’s has paid a dividend every quarter since going public in 1961, and that cash distribution has increased annually for more than half a century. Most recently, in August, Lowe's lifted its quarterly payout to 55 cents a share from 48 cents a share. That’s an improvement of almost 15%. Home Depot is a longtime dividend payer, too, but its string of annual dividend increases dates back only to 2010.
Numerous analysts have been busy reiterating their Buy calls on Lowe’s over the past couple months. Wedbush’s Seth Basham joined the bull camp in September, writing that he thinks “CEO Marvin Ellison will be able to transform Lowe’s into a much more productive and profitable company.”
The pros expect Lowe's to deliver average annual earnings growth of 17.6% for the next three to five years, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Market value: $61.5 billion
Dividend yield: 2.3%
Consecutive annual dividend increases: 56
Analysts’ opinion: 5 strong buy, 1 buy, 16 hold, 1 sell, 0 strong sell
Colgate-Palmolive (CL, $71.73) sells staples ranging from toothpaste to dish detergent, and thus demand for its products tends to remain stable in good and bad economies alike.
The company derives the vast majority of its sales outside the U.S., and that has been a problem of late. A stronger dollar, stagnant demand in key overseas markets and higher input costs had been weighing on Colgate’s results. CL has offset some of the pain by raising prices, although costs remain a headwind.
Colgate also is turning to M&A to improve its fates, announcing in July that it would acquire French skin brand Laboratories Filorga Cosmétiques for $1.69 billion -- its biggest M&A move since purchasing Kolynos in 1995. Bank of America’s Olivia Tong thinks the move sets up Colgate to grab its piece of the fast-growing premium skincare market.
Despite its issues, CL stock has outperformed the S&P 500 through the first nine months of 2019.
And then there’s the dividend. Colgate’s payout dates back more than a century, to 1895, and has increased annually for 56 years. CL last raised its quarterly dole in March, when it added a penny to bring the payout to 43 cents a share. The dividend should keep going up. After all, the company has been through tougher times than this.
Market value: $310.0 billion
Dividend yield: 2.4%
Consecutive annual dividend increases: 63
Analysts’ opinion: 8 strong buy, 4 buy, 11 hold, 2 sell, 0 strong sell
With major brands such as Tide detergent, Pampers diapers and Gillette razors, Procter & Gamble (PG, $123.85) is among the world’s largest consumer products companies and among the most recognizable Dividend Kings. Although the economy ebbs and flows, demand for products such as toilet paper, toothpaste and soap tends to remain stable.
That hardly makes P&G completely recession-proof, but it has helped fuel reliable dividend payments for more than a century. The Dow component has paid shareholders since 1890, and has raised its cash distribution annually for 63 years in a row. P&G last increased its quarterly payout in April, by 4% to 74.59 cents per share.
In addition to the generous dividend, analysts expect PG to generate average annual earnings growth of 7.2% for the next three to five years. Morgan Stanley’s Dara Mohsenian (Overweight, equivalent of Buy) thinks Procter & Gamble has an “attractive” valuation and can generate better EPS (earnings per share) growth than its peers.
Market value: $49.4 billion
Dividend yield: 2.7%
Analysts’ opinion: 3 strong buy, 0 buy, 12 hold, 3 sell, 4 strong sell
Founded in 1912, Illinois Tool Works (ITW, $152.73) is as “old economy” as it gets. The industrial company makes construction products, car parts, restaurant equipment and more.
While ITW sells many products under the namesake brand, it also operates businesses including Foster Refrigerators, ACME Packaging Systems and the Wolf Range Company.
Like many companies of a bygone era, ITW is serious about dividend growth, aiming to disburse 50% of its free cash flow as dividends. In August, Illinois Tool Works raised its quarterly dividend 7% to $1.07 a share, improving its dividend-growth streak to 56 straight years.
Just note that Wall Street isn’t particularly too hot on this “kingly” Dividend Aristocrat at the moment. Over the past three months, seven analysts have sounded off on Illinois Tool Works’ stock — two were Sells, four were Holds and only one was a Buy.
Market value: $343.1 billion
Dividend yield: 2.9%
Analysts’ opinion: 4 strong buy, 5 buy, 9 hold, 1 sell, 1 strong sell
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ, $129.99), founded in 1886 and public since 1944, operates in several different segments of the health-care industry. In addition to pharmaceuticals, it makes over-the-counter consumer products such as Band-Aids, Neosporin and Listerine. It also manufactures medical devices used in surgery.
The Dow component is embroiled not only in high-profile litigation over allegations that its iconic talcum powder is linked to cancer, but now cases tied to its Janssen unit related to the opioid crisis. And numerous analysts believe these problems will hold back Johnson & Johnson’s share price as long as they persist.
"We believe J&J shares are likely to continue to trade at a discount to its sum-of-the-parts valuation due to the litigation overhang,” writes Barclays analyst Kristen Stewart, who has an Equal Weight holding on shares (equivalent of Hold) and a $140 price target.
But however that turns out, it shouldn’t affect those who count on JNJ’s steady dividends over the long term. The company has contended with serious litigation and worse calamities in its long history and kept its payout intact.
Indeed, the health-care giant hiked its quarterly payout 5.6% in April, to 95 cents a share. That extended its streak of consecutive annual dividend increases to 57, keeping it among the ranks of the Dividend Kings. The streak should continue, too, if JNJ can keep growing its earnings; analysts expect it to, at a clip of 6.9% annually on average over the next half-decade.
Market value: $233.7 billion
Analysts’ opinion: 8 strong buy, 4 buy, 12 hold, 1 sell, 0 strong sell
Coca-Cola (KO, $54.65) has long been known for quenching consumers’ thirst, but it’s equally effective at quenching investors’ thirst for income. The company has paid a quarterly dividend since 1920, and that dividend has increased annually for the past 57 years.
KO last lifted its dividend in April, to 40 cents a share from 39 cents a share. The relentlessly rising dividend is one reason Coca-Cola finds itself among the best stocks of all time.
With the U.S. market for carbonated beverages on the decline for more than a decade, according to market research, Coca-Cola has responded by adding bottled water, fruit juices and teas to its product lineup to keep the cash flowing. In addition to the namesake Coca-Cola brand, KO also sports names such as Minute Maid, Powerade, Simply Orange and Vitaminwater.
Coca-Cola added another big name to its roster recently: In January 2019, it completed the acquisition of Costa Limited, which owns the popular Costa Coffee brand that operates in more than 30 countries.
Market value: $40.1 billion
Consecutive annual dividend increases: 62
Analysts’ opinion: 7 strong buy, 4 buy, 13 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Emerson Electric (EMR, $65.25) makes a wide variety of industrial products, ranging from control valves to laser welders to electrical fittings.
The prolonged downturn in oil prices weighed on Emerson for a couple years as energy companies continued to cut back on spending. Happily, analysts now say it’s well-positioned to take advantage of the recovery in the energy sector. Earnings are forecast to increase at an average annual rate of 7.7% for the next three to five years.
However, not all investors are so patient. Reuters recently reported that hedge fund D.E. Shaw is “building a stake in Emerson Electric Co and is planning to push for changes,” including a split into two segments, according to people familiar with the matter. That prompted Stephens analyst Rob McCarthy to reiterate his Overweight rating and $71 price target on the Dividend King.
Emerson has paid dividends since 1956 and has boosted its annual payout for 62 consecutive years, including its last increase in November 2018. Emerson’s dividend has swelled at a compound annual rate of 10.1% since 1956.
Market value: $10.1 billion
Dividend yield: 3.1%
Analysts’ opinion: 9 strong buy, 4 buy, 6 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Real estate investment trusts (REITs) such as Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRT, $135.70) are required to pay out at least 90% of their taxable earnings as dividends in exchange for certain tax benefits. Thus, REITs typically are a go-to source for income.
Few have been steadier than FRT.
Federal Realty Investment Trust — which owns retail and mixed-use real estate across 12 states, as well as the District of Columbia — is the lone REIT among the Dividend Kings. FRT has hiked its payout every year for more than half a century, and at an annual growth rate of more than 7%. It last raised the quarterly payout in August, by about 3% to $1.05 per share.
Better still, FRT might be a dividends-and-growth prospect. “We think a trade for growth and quality is in order and see FRT as a 2020 growth leader among Strip Centers,” writes Mizuho Securities analyst Haendel St. Juste, who upgraded the stock in September from Neutral (equivalent of Hold) to Buy.
Market value: $14.2 billion
Analysts’ opinion: 2 strong buy, 0 buy, 12 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Automotive and industrial replacement parts maker Genuine Parts (GPC, $97.22) is best-known for the Napa brand, though it also operates under AutoTodo in Mexico and UAP in Canada. Since its founding in 1928, it has pursued a strategy of acquisitions to fuel growth.
To that end, the company had a busy summer. In June, Genuine Parts’ London subsidiary acquired France’s Todd Group, a distributor of truck parts and accessories. A month later, GPC purchased the remaining 65% stake of Inenco, an Australian parts distributor.
Genuine Parts, like many stocks in the industrial space, has experienced tariff- and global slowdown-related headwinds. Indeed, JPMorgan analyst Christopher Horvers weighed softness in GPC’s industrials division against its strong dividend in his July note, which kept a Neutral rating on the stock.
Still, all along, Genuine Parts has been a cash machine. The Dividend King has hiked its payout annually for more than six decades. That includes a nearly 6% improvement to its distribution on Feb. 19, 2019.
Market value: $91.1 billion
Dividend yield: 3.5%
Consecutive annual dividend increases: 61
Analysts’ opinion: 1 strong buy, 2 buy, 12 hold, 2 sell, 1 strong sell
Industrial conglomerate 3M (MMM, $158.38), which makes everything from adhesives to electric circuits to tape, is the highest-yielding of the Dividend Kings. It also is one of the longest-tenured payers, boasting a quarterly dividend that has existed for more than a century. And 3M has increased that cash distribution annually for 61 consecutive years.
The company last raised its dividend in February, when it lifted the quarterly disbursement by 6% to $1.44 a share. "The strength of our business model enables 3M to consistently generate premium margins and strong cash flow, and to build on the company’s long history of returning cash to our shareholders," Mike Roman, 3M chief executive officer, said in a press release at the time.
The steady stream of cash has helped 3M earn the distinction of being one of the 50 best stocks of all time — even if shares have lagged the market by a wide margin this year. The U.S. trade war with China, as well as softness in the automotive and consumer electronics sectors, has been punishing MMM’s results.
Nonetheless, 3M expects its dividend to grow, even in the face of short-term profit weakness. “If I go back to other times in our history where we’ve had an earnings decline, we still have some small increases in our dividend,” CFO Nicholas Gangestad said on the company’s most recent earnings call.
Whatever the shorter-term holds for 3M’s share price, investors can bank on the conglomerate’s steady payouts over the long haul.