Dividend stocks can be the foundation of a great retirement portfolio. Not only do the payments put money in your pocket, which can help hedge against any dips in the stock market, but they're also usually a sign of a financially sound company. Dividends also give investors a painless opportunity to reinvest in a stock, thus compounding gains over time.
However, not all income stocks live up to their full potential. Using the payout ratio -- i.e., the percentage of profits a company returns to its shareholders as dividends -- we can get a good bead on whether a company has room to increase its dividend. Ideally, we like to see healthy payout ratios between 50% and 75%.
Here are three income stocks with payout ratios currently below 50% that could potentially double their dividends.
American Eagle Outfitters
For a change, we'll begin the week by focusing our attention on one of the best under-the-radar dividend payers in the retail sector, American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO).
Like most retailers, American Eagle Outfitters is cyclical, which means that it typically needs a growing U.S. economy, and normal weather patterns, to prosper. In recent months, U.S. GDP growth has been subpar. Couple this with some really odd weather over the past two years, and we have a perfectly viable reason why American Eagle Outfitters' stock is essentially flat over the past three years.
The good news for investors is that American Eagle Outfitters has catalysts working in its favor that allow it to stand out from its peers, and which could help accelerate its dividend growth in the years to come.
Arguably the biggest advantage for teen retailer American Eagle Outfitters is its niche price point. American Eagle is really competing against Abercrombie & Fitch on the high end and Aeropostale on the low end. Teens wants the luxury of brand-name merchandise, but their parents would prefer products that minimally impact their wallet. This is where American Eagle Outfitters' midway price point fits in. It draws in the consumer that doesn't want to pay Abercrombie prices, and gives a greater sense of "luxury" than purchasing discounted brand apparel from Aeropostale.
American Eagle Outfitters' management also deserves credit for keeping the company on the right track. When inventory levels build due to adverse weather, or American Eagle's buyers simply make poor purchasing decisions (which does happen, but is fairly rare), management is quick to enact discounts to move unwanted merchandise. It's rare that American Eagle is weighed down by inventory issues for more than a small handful of quarters.
In the first quarter, American Eagle Outfitters reported 7% sales growth to $749 million and comparable-store sales growth of 6%. More important, gross profit rose 170 basis points due to management's prudent discounting strategy and its ongoing focus on direct-to-consumer sales.
Currently paying out $0.50 annually, which is good enough for a 2.7% yield, but projected to grow EPS at a high-single-digit percentage over the long run, a doubling of American Eagle Outfitters' payout to $0.25 a quarter seems reasonable within the next decade.
Brookfield Asset Management
Another dividend-paying company that income investors would be wise to monitor is asset management holding company Brookfield Asset Management (NYSE:BAM). Brookfield is the parent company of Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (NYSE:BIP) and Brookfield Renewable Partners (NYSE:BEP).
The risks investors need to be aware of with a company like Brookfield Asset Management is that its subsidiaries could struggle in a weakened energy environment. Brookfield Renewable Energy, which owns more than 200 hydroelectric generating stations and more than three dozen wind facilities, could see a slowdown in demand for as long as crude and natural gas prices remain weak. Garnering price increases for Brookfield Infrastructure Partners' utility segment could prove challenging, too, in a weakened energy price environment.
Those are the risks; now here's the reward. Brookfield Asset Management currently has more than $240 billion in assets under management, and for the most part has had little issue raising funds for its investment war chest. Less than a month ago Brookfield closed on an aggregate commitment of $14 billion to create a global infrastructure fund to invest in core infrastructure assets. The original target was only to raise $10 billion, but demand far surpassed Brookfield's expectations. You'll find that this is fairly consistent throughout Brookfield's fundraising activities and indicative of its 100+ years of prudent investing.
Buying Brookfield Asset Management also allows you to take advantage of growth trends with a long-term tail. For example, Brookfield Renewable Partners is likely to see an increase in demand for its renewable-energy wind and hydroelectric assets as fossil fuel resources deplete and crude prices move higher. Likewise, the need for midstream infrastructure to transport and store fossil fuels should be a boon to Brookfield Infrastructure Partners. Finally, the steady growth of the U.S. economy over the long term should aid Brookfield Asset Management's property portfolio.
Brookfield is current paying out $0.52 annually, which equates to a 1.5% yield. However, with inflation-topping growth in its long-term forecast, a doubling of this dividend over the next 10 years seems quite possible.
The last income stock for investors to dig into is Kaiser Aluminum (NASDAQ:KALU), a producer of semi-fabricated specialty aluminum products used in the aerospace and defense, automotive, and industrial applications industries.
The clear risk involved with buying a commodity-based company like Kaiser Aluminum is that a recession could temporarily wreck its outlook. Kaiser Aluminum is typically cyclical, meaning it needs consistent global growth to push its profits substantially higher. If we see a prolonged slowdown in growth from the U.S., South America, or China, it could adversely impact the aluminum market and Kaiser Aluminum's orders.
However, the good news for income investors here is that industry metrics are generally working in Kaiser Aluminum's favor. Low aluminum prices over the past year, especially on higher-margin products, have helped keep the company's costs down. Conversely, Kaiser Aluminum enacted price increases in 2015 that have helped provide an immediate boost to its margins. The result was year-over-year EBITDA margin expansion of 80 basis points in the second quarter to 26.6% despite a decline in overall sales of 9%.
Kaiser Aluminum also has a number of cost-cutting levers it can pull. Unlike businesses that turn to job cuts to trim the fat, Kaiser Aluminum is instead focused on improving its operating efficiency to reduce costs. At the company's Trentwood facility in Washington state, Kaiser has witnessed a steady reduction in costs after a multiphase expansion. Surging domestic vehicle demand in recent years has also allowed Kaiser to improve its cost efficiencies within its automotive segment, with the expectation that costs will continue to fall as margins rise.
Kaiser Aluminum is paying out $0.45 a quarter at the moment, which works out to a 1.8% yield, and it has a pretty rich history of boosting its payout within the past couple of years. With more than $5 expected in EPS in the coming years, and margins expanding, it's not out of the question to forecast a doubling in Kaiser Aluminum's dividend by 2025.
Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
The Motley Fool recommends Brookfield Infrastructure Partners. 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.
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