One of the best ways to boost your dividend income is to invest in blue chip stocks. Blue chip stocks are large, well-established market leaders, and financially sound. They also tend to be stocks with dividends that lesser companies simply can't match. To start your search, here are five top dividend stocks, each a blue chip in its own right.
AT&T: A blue chip stock with a dividend you need to see
This list starts with AT&T (NYSE:T), the world's largest pay-TV provider, and a major player in mobility, wireless, and cloud services. The company's stock currently trades at just less than 14 times forward earnings, near the center of its range during the past five years. Its dividend yield is 4.88%.
Year to date in 2016, the company's stock has crushed the S&P 500 by more than 4.5 times, appreciating 15.5%. The increase comes on the back of its $49-billion acquisition of DirecTV in 2015, and strong first-quarter growth. First-quarter revenue was up 24% year over year thanks to revenue from DirecTV, and the addition of 2.3 million new wireless subscribers.
Taken altogether, the company looks reasonably priced, well-positioned for the future, and pays an attractive dividend that has steadily increased over time.
General Motors: The place for a 5% dividend yield
Next we turn to the auto industry, where the largest U.S. manufacturer, General Motors (NYSE:GM), is currently paying investors a hearty 5.07% dividend yield.
The company's May sales were down 18% year over year. However, that decline was precipitated by a change in strategy that stands to benefit shareholders over the long term. The company is reducing its sales to rental-car companies, a less-profitable segment than retail sales.
The change seems to be working. Earnings per share jumped 47% year over year in the first quarter despite lower-volume sales.
Sales in the Chinese market further mitigate May's ugly numbers. The company reported 17% growth in China in May, led by a 30% jump in Cadillac sales, and a 61% increase in Buick sales. That's a powerful sign for future growth in the world's most-populous country.
Wal-Mart Stores: Free cash flow machine
Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT) is the world's largest retailer, but with a dividend yield of just 2.81%, you may be wondering why it deserves a spot on a list of top dividend stocks. Stocks with dividends are great investments as long as the company is able to keep paying it over time. While Wal-Mart's dividend yield isn't as high as the very top dividend stocks, it's built on one of the strongest financial foundations of any company in the world.
That stability more than makes up for the relatively lower yield compared to the other blue chips on this list. Wal-Mart has increased its annual dividend for 43 consecutive years, the longest streak of any stock here.
On a per-share basis, Wal-Mart pays a dividend of $0.50. It's trailing 12-month free cash flow, the flow of funds that actually pays the dividend, is more than five times higher, at $5.53 per share. The company is very well capitalized with a debt-to-equity ratio of just 0.225 times, as of the first quarter.
No one needs to worry about Wal-Mart coming up short on dividend payments. It has more-than-enough cash and capital to keep the dividends flowing for a long time.
The company's yield, by the way, is still 35% higher than the average yield of the S&P 500.
General Electric: One of the top dividend stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average
Since its brush with death during the financial crisis, General Electric (NYSE:GE) has made sweeping changes to its business model to lower risk and increase stability. The stock is up 198% since the first quarter of 2009, beating the S&P 500 by 33%. The company currently pays a dividend yielding 3.05%.
The core of GE's post-crisis strategy was to diversify away from its former profit engine, its financial division GE Capital. The company wasted no time executing the plan; it's already sold off about $200 billion of assets. The company's stock has beaten the S&P 500 by 10 times since the announcement in 2015.
With GE Capital all but gone, the company is refocusing on its manufacturing and energy businesses. For dividend investors, this should translate to steadier cash flows and less risk, along with a healthy yield.
Chevron: A top dividend stock for those with a long time horizon
Chevron (NYSE:CVX) has increased its annual dividend for 31 consecutive years, trailing only Wal-Mart's streak on this list. The company's dividend currently yields 4.23%, a number boosted by sharp declines in its stock price during the past 18 months. That decline in share price is driven by low oil and gas prices plaguing the entire energy industry.
The low commodity prices have squeezed Chevron's margins, and erased its free cash flow, leading some to question the safety of its dividend. In the short and medium term, that may be true. However, investors with a longer investment horizon should view today's weakness as an opportunity.
The price of oil bottomed around $26 per barrel earlier this year, a level not seen since the nadir of the financial crisis. Before that, you have to look back all the way to 2004 to find oil that cheap. Since the bottom, oil has rebounded to about $50 per barrel at the time of this writing.
Chevron's stock price has mirrored that rebound. Could the price of oil reverse course again, sending Chevron lower?
In the short term, that's very possible. However, in the long term, it seems reasonable that the price of oil will maintain today's prices, or rise higher based on historical trends. In that scenario, Chevron will remain a powerful blue chip stock, and an attractive dividend investment.