In today's world of low interest rates and a poor outlook on bonds looking forward, finding yield is often a difficult task. However, by investing in General Mills (NYSE:GIS), ConAgra (NYSE:CAG), and Kellogg (NYSE:K), you could be earning dividends currently yielding 3%, 3.5%, and 3%, respectively. You'll also get pieces of growing companies for years to come.
All three of these companies are large players in the packaged food industry, each of them owning several household brand names.
First, General Mills
General Mills sells too many brand names to even consider naming all of them. A short sampling includes Yoplait, Pillsbury, and Cheerios.
General Mills currently yields around 3% and has paid dividends every year for the last 115 years. During that time, the company have never reduced its dividend . Even better, it appears that this trend will go uninterrupted for many years to come.
General Mills has grown revenue on average 4.85% per year over the last ten years . Over the same time period, the company has grown its earnings per share by over 7% per year, helped by stock repurchases. With a steady profit margin of around 10% and a steady dividend payout ratio of around 45%, you should be confident in continued dividend increases.
At the end of the second quarter on Nov. 24, 2013, General Mills had $6.7 billion of long-term debt, representing a long-term debt to equity of 0.95 and 3.7 times last year's $1.8 billion. For a company producing as much cash as General Mills does each year, this debt is nothing to concern us.
Even higher yield for ConAgra owners
Like General Mills, ConAgra has a number of brands in its portfolio; it is the maker of Hunt's, Banquet, Healthy Choice, and many other brands. The company has an impressive dividend history as well. ConAgra has paid dividends every year since 1977 , and currently has a yield of 3.5%.
ConAgra's revenues and earnings have been more sporadic than General Mills, but they are still impressive. The company has earned over $700 million on $17.3 billion in sales over the latest twelve months. ConAgra is still struggling from its 2013 acquisition of Ralcorp, as earnings haven't played out as planned for ConAgra management . I suspect that earnings and margins should improve as ConAgra continues to work Ralcorp's private brand operations into its own.
At the end of the latest quarter, ConAgra had long-term debt of $8.7 billion, which is the one of the only troubling pieces of this puzzle. Debt increased fourfold in the third quarter of 2013 to fund the acquisition of Ralcorp. However, ConAgra's free cash flow over the last twelve months of $873 million is easily enough to cover the interest expense of $367 million over the same period. Again, as the acquisition of Ralcorp becomes part of normal operations, this debt load should not be a problem.
Kellogg treats you nicely
Lastly we have Kellogg, the large cereal and snack maker. Kellogg has been offering its shareholders a dividend since 1925: that's nearly 100 years of dividends, and it has increased the dividend in each of the last ten years .
Kellogg's smooth operations have helped the company to reward its shareholders, and will continue to do so moving forward. Kellogg modestly grew its revenue in each of the last ten years, averaging 4.4% growth per year. It has also more than doubled its earnings from ten years ago . Kellogg has also had very consistent profit margins of around 10% over the last ten years.
Kellogg has a modest capital structure as well, with $6.3 billion of long-term debt in December 2013. This represents a somewhat high 1.75 long-term debt to equity ratio, but the company earned over $1.8 billion last year so this amount should not bother us as investors.
You could diversify across these three major food producers to collect nice dividends and join in the industry's growth, or you could pick and choose. General Mills, ConAgra, Kellogg, are selling at 18.9, 17.9, and 12.4 times earnings, respectively, as compared to an industry average of 17.9. By this measure, none of the three are selling at outrageous prices. However, by the price to earnings ratio and by the stability of operations, it appears that Kellogg may be the most reasonably priced of the three.
All three of these companies produce products that you and I consume every day. Owning these three great companies could give your portfolio safety through difficult market conditions while offering an attractive yield that should continue to grow as the years go on.
So should you hold on to these companies forever?
As every savvy investor knows, Warren Buffett didn't make billions by betting on half-baked stocks. He isolated his best few ideas, bet big, and rode them to riches, hardly ever selling. You deserve the same. That's why our CEO, legendary investor Tom Gardner, has permitted us to reveal The Motley Fool's 3 Stocks to Own Forever. These picks are free today! Just click here now to uncover the three companies we love.
Jacob Meredith and clients of Appalachian Capital Group, LLC have no positions in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.