What do you do when good stocks are doing bad things? This week, growth concerns slammed the shares of Philip Morris (NYSE: MO). I know what you're thinking. Didn't we already know that smoking would stunt your growth? But, seriously now, concerns over cheap counterfeit smokes and higher excise taxes have the Marlboro Man pulling back on the reins of his nicotine workhorse.
That might place you in a vulnerable position. If you are addicted to high yields and cheap valuations, Philip Morris can be awfully addictive right now. With a 5.9% dividend and fetching just eight times earnings, it's not hard to envision rolling up the stock certificate and pressing it between your lips. Want to turn things up a notch? How's this for a definition of peer pressure: Fellow tobacco heavies R.J. Reynolds (NYSE: RJR) and UST (NYSE: UST) are yielding as much as Philip Morris, if not better.
For some of you, seeing three out-of-favor stocks with single-digit P/E multiples doesn't pose much of a social dilemma. If the numbers are there and the fundamentals hold up, you could care less if the company is out to save the world or makes beef jerky out of clubbed baby seals for a living.
I can't do that. Before my wife became a teacher at her high school alma mater, she was a regional marketing director for the American Cancer Society. Our 4-year-old son is a brain cancer survivor. Hideo Nomo may be a crafty pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodger, but "No MO" is a portfolio certainty around the Edible household. And, no, I don't think that this makes me a better person than you. Just don't try to sell me on the theory that you're a better investor than me because you have a wider universe of stocks to choose from.
When you give it some thought, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that sin stocks are generous dividend tippers. Whether it's just a guilty conscience or the more likely explanation that these are low-tech cash cow businesses with little need for idle cash, you get the yield on these equity devices because so many others fail to yield to their vices.
The beer money isn't the same. Anheuser-Busch (NYSE: BUD), Coors (NYSE: RKY), and Brown Forman (NYSE: BF.A) have more modest payouts, yielding between 1.2% and 1.9%. Like a high school kegger, the multiples here are in the teens.
The brew crew doesn't have the same wicked hangover as the tobacco companies do with their litigation battles. Obviously, the legal liabilities have weighed down the puffing-stuff stocks. The sin space sets the stage for the investing anomaly, where it's the stocks with the high dividends and low P/E multiples that carry the greatest risk.
Five years ago, David Gardner had an interesting option for Philip Morris investors who felt uncomfortable with the ownership: Take that beefy dividend and donate it to the fight against tobacco. While this might seem as self-defeating as parlaying that Ford (NYSE: F) dividend into some upstart teleportation provider, or taking your McDonald's (NYSE: MCD) payout to bankroll a salad-bar chain, it's a valid point.
I can argue that if you think that any company's premise is flawed to the point where you don't believe in the company's future, why would you want to hop on those coattails to nowhere?
But the yields are tempting and these companies tend to hike their dividends every passing year. Given the payout growth trends, even if Philip Morris were to go bust in a dozen years, you would have already made back your initial investment on the quarterly dividend checks.
Yet we still have one last ethical quandary to tackle here. Most of these sin stocks not only pay out dividends, but they also offer dividend reinvestment plans. Not the gaming stocks. Casino operators like Mandalay Resort (NYSE: MBG), Trump (NYSE: DJT), and MGM Mirage (NYSE: MGG) pay their shareholders zip. Maybe it's because they've cleaned out enough slot machines to know the value of the loose change. Maybe it's that they don't want to bet on their investors doing the right thing with the money or chip in for the cause. With these companies, the house always wins.
But as a Drip investor, how do you approach the yield-happy vice squad? By taking your dividend checks and reinvesting the proceeds, aren't you simply condoning your initial condoning? Grammatically speaking, a double negative is a positive, but let's not take this so literally. Wouldn't it be better to just take the hearty payouts in cash and diversify your portfolio, add to other established positions, or just sign it over to Foolanthropy in a soapy soul cleansing?