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Dividend Stocks Forever?

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Ultimately, you'll face at least one of two huge retirement risks:

  • Running out of money.
  • Running out of life.

One will get you before the other does, but neither one of them is necessarily pleasant to face unprepared. If you run out of life before you run out of money, somebody else will enjoy the rewards from your thrift. If you run out of money first, then you wind up destitute at a stage in your life when you're less likely to be able to go back to work.

Where's the balance?
Unless your crystal ball works better than mine, you neither know when you're destined to die nor how the market will treat your investments until then. So your retirement investment plan needs to balance those two risks to maximize your chances of enjoying both your remaining time and money.

The classic strategy is the 4% rule. In essence, you withdraw 4% of a well-diversified portfolio in your first year of retirement. Then, you adjust that withdrawal upward by inflation every year and have a reasonable shot of having your money's purchasing power last as long as you do.

It's a decent approach, if you can follow it. One of its big limitations though, is that a mere $40,000 income requires a $1 million portfolio. To live like the average American family did in 2009, you'd need around $1.25 million.

The average net worth of a 65-year-old is closer to $0.25 million than $1.25 million, which means directly following that 4% rule may not provide enough for most retirees. As a result, tougher measures are often needed.

Get more aggressive
The trick, though, is finding a strategy that:

  • Lets you take out more than 4% today,
  • Protects you against inflation's long-term ravages, and
  • Still gives you a decent chance of seeing your money last as long as you do.

In today's market, that leaves only one realistic option: The stocks of companies that offer both high current yields and a decent history of raising their dividends. If your portfolio can throw off more than 4% in cash, you can take it as income without selling off the stocks that generate it. If those stocks raise their dividends faster than inflation, your purchasing power can keep pace, too.

Such companies were once plentiful. Thanks to the last few years' financial meltdown that knocked out so many institutions that were a bit too generous with their cash, though, there are far fewer left. Fortunately, the survivors span across multiple industries, which means you can invest in them while still keeping the "nearly free lunch" benefits of diversification. The table below shows survivors that have:

  • Yields of more than 4%,
  • Five or more consecutive years of higher dividend payments, and
  • An increase in the past year of more than the official 2.7% inflation rate:

Company

Industry

Recent Yield

Year-Over-Year Dividend Change

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (NYSE: KMP  ) Energy Pipelines 6.2% 5.9%
Reynolds American (NYSE: RAI  ) Consumer Staples 5.6% 9.7%
Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ  ) Telecommunications 5.2% 2.8%
Southern Co. (NYSE: SO  ) Utilities 4.7% 4.0%
Digital Realty Trust (NYSE: DLR  ) Real Estate Investment Trust 4.4% 37.0%
Novartis (NYSE: NVS  ) Health Care 4.2% 20.0%
Leggett & Platt (NYSE: LEG  ) Consumer Discretionary 4.1% 3.9%

Are they still worth owning?
Given that so many companies stopped their generous dividends during the financial meltdown, it naturally raises the question of why these companies didn't. In some cases, they couldn't. As a REIT, Digital Realty Trust has to pay out at least 90% of its earnings to keep its special tax status. And as a partnership, Kinder Morgan Energy Partners passes its income (and tax burden) to its unit holders, making a high payout essential to attract investors and allow them to pay any tax liability.

In other cases, their operations and cash flows were somewhat buffered from the worst of the meltdown by providing regulated utility services. Both Southern Co. and Verizon have some businesses that fit that description.

And then there's the addictive nature of Reynolds American's tobacco business, which keeps people coming back for more. Likewise, Novartis makes pharmaceutical products, which in many cases can literally be "do or die" propositions for its customers. If people need a product, they're generally more willing to pay for it.

Which leaves Leggett & Platt. While the case for its continued success is somewhat less obvious than the others on that list, it has:

  • A 125-plus year operating history,
  • 39 consecutive years of paying higher dividends, and
  • The advantages of being the entrenched leader in many of its business lines.

That combination certainly speaks well for the company's long-term staying power.

How will you finance your future?
Ultimately, getting through retirement comfortably is a matter of balancing several needs:

  • Current income,
  • Keeping up with inflation, and
  • Trying to assure your money lasts as long as you do.

Owning the stocks of companies with decent current and still rising dividends just might be your best reasonable chance at successfully balancing all those priorities. That's especially true if the traditional 4% rule is a bit too conservative for the size of your nest egg.

Don't miss out on these stocks. Add them to your watchlist today and let news and research come to you automatically.

At the time of publication, Fool contributor Chuck Saletta owned shares of Kinder Morgan Management, a related company to Kinder Morgan Energy Partners.

Novartis is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Southern Company is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. 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.


Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (20)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 12, 2011, at 6:05 PM, energysystems wrote:

    I bought KMR for my IRA. It gives it's distribution in stocks, rather than cash. Kinder Morgan also allows you to exchange them for KMP shares at any point. If there is zero appreciation in share price, and distributions remain stagnant, I'll go from 100 shares today, to 900 by the time I'm about to retire. Not amazing stuff, but getting that distribution money once I've retired looks good to me, especially since an initial 6000 dollar investment would in turn pay me 4400 annually once I've retired(if the distribution stay stagnant). I've done the same with VOD(who owns 45% of Verizon Wireless), reinvesting my dividends since I don't "need" them today.

  • Report this Comment On May 13, 2011, at 11:39 AM, mm5525 wrote:

    Good points, Chuck & energysystems. I own several MLPs that pay out 90% in earnings like REITs do: EPD, PAA, MMP, HEP, CHKM, & PNG. All are over 5% distributions. All of them generally raise, although PNG did not but they IPO'd just last year, but should raise in time. ENB is another MLP that is catching my eye I do not currently own. I like how energysystems points out the long-term view of these stocks. Start off with 100 shares, keep the DRIP on to reinvest that income into more shares, and years later you have 500, 600, 1000 shares depending on time frame with that income. As Chuck points out, distributions/dividends are a great income producer you can use without having to create a taxable event by selling the associated security outright. Also, PM (yes, I realize it only yields 3.75%) but they are my #1 holding and raise every 3Q. When I bought the bulk of my shares, they were yielding well over 5%. So if PM goes down in the case of a Greek debt crisis like it did back last summer you could pick it up yielding 4+. In the case of PNG and CHKM, both of these MLPs IPO'd just last summer, so they should raise distributions more heavily than the older companies like KMP, ENB, EPD, & ETP in an effort to attract more capital to these newer MLPs.

  • Report this Comment On June 07, 2011, at 11:22 AM, GripColt wrote:

    One more option exists, and it is more realistic than a stock. How about an annuity? The top selling one on the market right now guarantees 6% at a minimum without annuitization. So if you have $250,000, you can take $15,000 a year for life. Add that to $24,000 a year from Social Security and a retired couple could live comfortably. Stocks are too volitile for retirees.

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Chuck Saletta
TMFBigFrog

Chuck Saletta has been a regular Fool contributor since 2004. His investing style has been inspired by Benjamin Graham's Value Investing strategy. Chuck also can be found on the "Inside Value" discussion boards as a Home Fool.

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