Finding a company that's capable of doubling its dividend in short order is sometimes just as good, if not better, than finding a solid high-yield dividend payer. A company paying less than 2% today could yield 3% to 4% on your original basis in a few years, and potentially more in the future.
Companies with strong cash flow and low payout ratios are prime candidates to double their dividends. In this article we'll examine three companies that fit the bill.
Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has more cash than it (or anyone else) knows what to do with. With a net cash -- cash minus debt -- position of $153 billion, Apple plans to pay out another $29 billion in dividends by March 2018.
Apple's most recent distribution totaled about $2.9 billion, but the $29 billion it plans to pay out comes out to an average of $3.6 billion per quarter. If Apple keeps its total payout the same for the next three quarters before its annual dividend increase during its fiscal third quarter, next year's quarterly payout could reach $4.35 billion. That alone represents a 50% boost.
But Apple is also planning to buy back stock. It had $58 billion left in its authorization as of the end of its second quarter. That's more than 10% of the company's market value. That could boost the dividend growth to as much as 67% if Apple is able to repurchase shares around the current price.
Even if Apple doesn't stick to its current plan and increase the dividend that fast (after all, if its share price remains low, it may be better for it to buy back more shares), it's well positioned to double its dividend eventually. It brought in over $55 billion in free cash flow over the trailing 12 months. And its dividend as a percentage of earnings -- its payout ratio -- is just 28%.
With that kind of cash and earnings generation, Apple is set to double its dividend in the near future. So, that 2.4% yield today could be a 4.8% yield on your original investment within a few years.
Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) is still opening new stores at a breakneck pace, expecting to open 1,800 more this year alone. It already has 23,921 stores worldwide, but comparable-store sales continue to climb, up 6% globally last quarter.
While Starbucks is investing a lot of capital in opening new stores, it still finds room to return some to shareholders. It bought back 23 million shares in the second quarter, and authorized another 100 million, bringing its current total to 125 million shares, about 8.5% of shares outstanding. It pays a dividend of $0.20 per quarter as well, which came to $295 million last quarter.
It's also rapidly growing its free cash flow. From fiscal 2013 to fiscal 2015, Starbucks grew free cash flow an average of 18% per year. It grew nearly as fast in the three years prior as well. That rapid growth in free cash flow bodes well for dividend increases.
Starbucks currently only pays out 40% of its free cash flow, and it's expected to pay out a similar percentage of earnings. With free cash flow and earnings expected to grow in the high teens for the foreseeable future, Starbucks could double its dividend in about four years without even increasing its payout ratio. That should leave plenty of cash to open even more new stores. And if you factor in the share buybacks, it should take even less time.
Starbucks has consistently increased its dividend 23% to 25% over the last four years. At that rate, it would nearly double in three years. That potential makes Starbucks' 1.4% yield much more palatable to dividend investors.
Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) investors received not one but two dividend increases last year after the media company switched to semi-annual payments from its usual single payment at the end of the year. But the growth isn't over yet.
Despite some troubles with subscriber growth at its biggest profit driver, ESPN, the company continues to grow revenue from the network due to ramps in its affiliate fees and strong advertising sales. Earnings growth is expected to remain strong going forward, with analysts projecting a 13% increase this year and an 11% average growth rate over the next five years.
Those numbers are all the more encouraging for dividend growth considering Disney currently pays out just 25% of its earnings. An increase in payout ratio combined with elevated earnings could mean a dividend growth rate in the mid-teens. That could double the dividend in half a decade.
Disney is also aggressively buying back stock. During the first six months of fiscal 2016, Disney repurchased $4.4 billion worth of its shares. That's up from $1.8 billion during the same period last year. With the stock price trading at relatively low levels, Disney may find it beneficial to continue plowing money into share repurchases. That will allow for bigger dividend boosts down the line.
Disney's dividend has already almost doubled in the last three years after more than doubling in the three years before that. It might only take another three for it to double again.
Adam Levy owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple, Starbucks, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2018 $90 calls on Apple and short January 2018 $95 calls on Apple. 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.