When looking for investments, you may want to look to the S&P 500's Dividend Aristocrats list. Companies merit a spot on the list when they boost dividends for at least a couple of decades. Of course, it would be unwise to invest in a company based solely on its inclusion on this list. Looking into company fundamentals and whether it sells a needed product represent a must when doing investment research.
The service professionals
Cintas (NASDAQ:CTAS) performs a variety of services for other businesses such as uniform services/sales, safety services, document management, and cleaning services. It calls itself "The service professionals." One of Cintas's strengths lies in its ability to utilize its current customer base to sell additional products . For example, a customer participating in its rug service may also want to bring Cintas in to clean its bathrooms.
The company boosted dividends for 30 straight years . Its free cash flow increased 15% last year and paid out a low 22% of the total in dividends . Currently, the company pays $0.64 per share per year and yields 1.3%.
Cintas doesn't rest on its laurels. It pushes geographic expansion. Cintas's 2012 expansion in the European market will bode well for the company as the European economy shows signs of recovering from their recession woes.
A power brand collection
Apparel and footwear company, VF Corp (NYSE:VFC) owns a portfolio of strong brands such as The North Face, Lee, Wrangler, and Timberland. VF understands the power of branding, quality, and customer loyalty.
As of Oct. 2012, VF boosted dividends for 40 years straight . Last year, its free cash flow increased 19% and paid out 34% of the total in dividends. Currently the company pays $3.48 per share per year and yields 1.8%.
VF wants to grow its business with a global focus, acquiring more powerful brands, and creating new products. The company expressed its goal of garnering 43% of its revenue from the international arena by 2017. In addition, VF established the VF innovation fund in order to internally fund employee product design initiatives and the more recent innovation centers staffed with engineers, scientists, and technical designers.
Keeping the world clean
Ecolab (NYSE:ECL) deals in the business of sanitation. If you own a business that needs to be brought up to health code, or a water system that doesn't meet sanitation standards, then Ecolab can help you with these tasks.
Ecolab boosted its dividend for 21 straight years . Last year, Ecolab grew free cash flow 90% and paid out 50% of the total in dividends. Currently, the company pays $0.92 per share per year and yields 1% annually.
Ecolab constantly innovates with new products. For example, it introduced the Advantis FC program, a cleaner that allows for food sanitation at lower temperatures . Ecolab also introduced the Kay Heated Soak Tank program that allows for easier sanitation of restaurant equipment. Also, Ecolab wants to explore a new frontier with the acquisition of Champion Technologies , a chemical specialty company that focuses on the energy business. Ecolab should benefit from the ever growing worldwide appetite for energy through this acquisition.
On the whole, these companies provide needed products and services and enjoy considerable brand loyalty while paying out relatively low amounts of their free cash flow in dividends. All of these elements provide the catalysts for growing the free cash flow that will sustain dividend increases for years to come.