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Recently, a young investor told me he didn't plan to buy dividend stocks until he's a lot closer to retirement. He hinted that these boring stocks had very little growth potential. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Some dividend stocks are actually exciting, fast-growing companies. Better yet, some of the best performers of the past decade were companies that people mistakenly pegged as slow-growth companies.
Now don't get me wrong: These companies are the exception, not the rule. Very few companies actually keep growing at market-beating rates once they get to a certain size. However, I've found several stocks that I think you should take a closer look at.
Choosing dividend aristocrats
All three of the stocks I've chosen below qualify as dividend aristocrats. As Standard & Poor's defines them, dividend aristocrats are companies that have boosted their dividends for 25 straight years. This is a stellar feat, because earnings must be raised in line with dividends in order for this type of history to be sustainable. Companies that pay out increasing dividends must be mindful of their capital spending if they want to grow despite paying out a portion of their earnings -- and that's exactly what these companies do.
There are three dividend aristocrats in particular that have stellar dividend increase histories with still-bright futures ahead of them.
Fizzy brand power
Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) is the leading beverage company in the world. What's more, it has a strong international presence: Only 32% of its revenue came from North America in 2010.
This company has befuddled me for years. It's hard to believe that nobody's been able to replicate the secret formula in all this time. There have been plenty of knock-offs, but Coca-Cola remains extremely popular. That tells me the brand power of Coca-Cola is immensely powerful.
Coca-Cola can charge a premium for what is a very similar drink to its competitors' offerings while maintaining superior sales volumes. It's no wonder that this company has increased dividends 49 years in a row.
An interesting alternative to Coca-Cola is PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP ) . PepsiCo is a more diversified business, also providing snacks to the world via its Frito-Lay and Quaker Foods subsidiaries. PepsiCo has increased its dividend 39 years in a row.
In all honesty, PepsiCo's history is impressive as well. Investors are free to choose between the larger international presence of Coca-Cola and the diversified snacks business of PepsiCo. I prefer Coca-Cola for the greater international diversification, but PepsiCo is a very close second.
Diversified health care
Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ ) has three segments: consumer products, medical devices and diagnostics, and pharmaceuticals. What's more, 70% of its revenue is generated from markets in which it is No. 1 or No. 2. With the baby boomer generation set to retire en masse, Johnson & Johnson faces favorable demographic trends in the coming decade.
Johnson & Johnson has already increased dividends 49 years in a row, but health care is a nice sector going forward. The next decade looks just as bright as the last.
A close second is Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT ) , which has raised its dividends for 39 consecutive years and has a diversified revenue stream with nutritional products and diagnostic products in the fold. Its pharmaceuticals segment, however, still makes up more than half of its revenue. I give the slight edge to Johnson & Johnson here for having more evenly distributed revenue sources.
A list of stable dividend payers wouldn't be complete without a consumer staples company. Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) is my favorite of the bunch. It has 24 different brands that average more than $1 billion in annual revenue. These brands are well-known: Pampers, Tide, Charmin, and Mach3 are among them. People shave, change diapers, and use toilet paper every day, so demand is remarkably steady for its products.
Procter & Gamble has a stated goal of growing sales by 1 to 2 percentage points above average market growth rates and of increasing EPS in the high single to low double digits. This is most likely achieved by taking advantage of overall global economic growth and then adding in a mix of market share increases and new product offerings.
These sound like hefty goals, but examining the last decade says otherwise. Procter & Gamble earned $3.5 billion during the fiscal 2000 but was able to earn $12.7 billion during fiscal 2010. Companies don't usually increase earnings by that much in just 10 years unless they're growing rather quickly.
With Procter & Gamble's success over the last decade, it's no wonder that it has been able to increase its dividend all these years. In fact, of all the companies mentioned here, Procter & Gamble has the longest-running record of consecutive dividend increases at 55 years.
Two of my other favorites in this space include Kimberly-Clark (NYSE: KMB ) and Clorox (NYSE: CLX ) , which have increased their dividends 39 years and 34 years, respectively. They produce similar household products such as diapers and cleaning products. It's hard to lose with any of these companies, but I like the multitude of P&G's billion-dollar brands and its chances to continue its longer dividend increase streak.
These companies aren't perfect, but anyone interested in dividend stocks could do worse than look at companies that have increased their dividends for decades in a row. It takes a great business and a history of disciplined capital spending to do that, and it doesn't happen very often. Whether you go with my primary picks or the also-excellent alternative choices, you'll have companies with a proven track record of posting strong revenue and earnings over the long haul.
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Looking for stocks with high dividend yields? Read the "13 High-Yielding Stocks to Buy Today."