There are thousands of stocks traded on US and international markets. If one were to analyze in detail all of these stocks it would probably take them a lifetime to accomplish this task. Luckily, dividend growth investors have several lists they could use to aide in the search for quality dividend stocks.
The first criterion that I use is that a company must have consistently raised distributions for at least ten years in a row. According to the dividend champions list, maintained by Dave Fish, there were 234 companies trading in the US which have managed to accomplish this. The reason behind requiring at least a decade of consistent dividend growth is to weed out all companies which are inconsistent in their dividend policies.
The second criterion includes removing companies which trade at a price/earnings ratio of over 20. Even the best dividend paying companies such as Coca-Cola (KO) or Procter & Gamble (PG) are not worth owning at any price. In fact it could be argued that the reason behind the lackluster performance of the US Stock Market and many dividend stocks over the past decade is because they were grossly overvalued in the early 2000s. Despite the fact that many of these companies were able to substantially increase earnings and dividends over the past decade, these stocks are only now beginning to appear attractively valued. The only returns these shareholders were able to generate over the past decade were mostly from dividends.
The third criterion includes removing all stocks whose dividend payout ratio is higher than 60%. A lower payout is always a plus, since it leaves room for consistent dividend growth minimizing the impact of short-term fluctuations in earnings. Otherwise a high payout could show that the company cannot afford to pay the distribution and that the risk of a dividend cut is high.
Next, I want to look at companies which yield at least 2.50% at the time of purchase. I like to avoid companies which consistently raise dividends, yet distribute such a low amount of earnings as dividends that it would take a lifetime to achieve a decent yield on cost. I prefer to focus on companies in the sweet spot, which not only provide decent yields of 2.50% - 4% today, but also target dividend growth at least in the high single digits.
After applying the set of criteria described above, the dividend investor should have a more manageable list for further research. While some investors also use dividend growth as another criterion, I typically want to only see it in the positive territory. After that I evaluate dividend growth prospects on a company by company basis. In addition, certain companies which pass-through most of their income to shareholders such as REITs and MLPs should be evaluated using a separate set of criteria that fits better with the type of business structure investors are analyzing.
A few companies that fit these criteria today include McDonald’s (MCD), PepsiCo (PEP), Procter & Gamble (PG), Colgate Palmolive (CL) and Chevron Corporation (CVX).
McDonald’s Corporation (MCD), together with its subsidiaries, operates as a worldwide foodservice retailer. The company has raised distributions for 34 years in a row and has a ten year annual dividend growth rate of 26.50%. Yield: 3.20% (analysis)
PepsiCo, Inc. (PEP) manufactures, markets, and sells various foods, snacks, and carbonated and non-carbonated beverages worldwide. The company has raised distributions for 38 years in a row and has a ten year annual dividend growth rate of 13%. Yield: 3% (analysis)
The Procter & Gamble Company (PG) provides consumer packaged goods in the United States and internationally. The company has raised distributions for 54 years in a row and has a ten year annual dividend growth rate of 10.90%. Yield: 3.10% (analysis)
Colgate-Palmolive Company (CL) , together with its subsidiaries, manufactures and markets consumer products worldwide. The company has raised distributions for 48 years in a row and has a ten year annual dividend growth rate of 12.40%. Yield: 3% (analysis)
Chevron Corporation (CVX), through its subsidiaries, engages in petroleum, chemicals, mining, power generation, and energy operations worldwide. The company has raised distributions for 23 years in a row and has a ten year annual dividend growth rate of 8.10%. Yield: 2.80% (analysis)
It is important to remember that dividend investing should not be seen as a mechanical process. Investors should further analyze in detail the companies which their list generates and evaluate their competitive advantages, understand their business model and decide for themselves whether future dividend growth could be maintained.
Full Disclosure: Long PEP,PG,KO, WMT, MCD, CVX, CL