When picking dividend stocks, many people's first thought is to find ones with very high yields. That narrow focus, though, can mean they overlook a lot of great options that may not have eye-popping yields, but that can be solid investments over the long term. Three companies that stand out as well-run businesses that should have few problems growing their 3% or more dividend yields are General Electric (NYSE:GE), ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), and Anheuser Busch InBev (NYSE:BUD). Here's a quick look at each one, and why it's worth looking at as a potential dividend investment.
Not your dad's General Electric
The degree to which General Electric has changed over the past dozen years can't be overstated. Consider this for a minute: The company has almost completely divested itself of two business units that accounted for 50% of its operational profits in 2007 -- GE Capital and its stake in NBC Universal. Today, it's a much smaller, more concentrated company that is getting back to its roots as a manufacturer of equipment for the oil and gas, power generation, aviation, and healthcare industries.
This refocusing has had two big benefits for the company. In the short term, it has freed up immense amounts of capital that previously needed to be held in reserve due to GE Capital's designation as a systemically important financial institution. All of that can now be used to invest in the business, or given back to shareholders via share repurchases or dividend hikes. The shares today yield about 3%.
Over the longer term, though, the company has a very intriguing growth lever across all of its business segments: The Industrial Internet of Things. General Electric is making a big push into incorporating more remote sensing and real-time analysis of its equipment through its Predix software platform. For the customer, it's a way to reduce downtime and optimize runtime through GE's data analysis platform. For GE, it's a high-margin service offering that generates recurring revenue from license updates.
The combination of this short-term spark from share repurchases and dividend hikes coupled with the long-term catalyst of Predix should put General Electric on your radar.
Still the industry stalwart
It's no secret that ExxonMobil has taken a few hits during the ongoing energy industry downturn. Lower oil and gas prices have resulted in some of its lowest earnings results in more than a decade, leading some analysts to question if it can maintain its 32-year streak of raising dividends. If that weren't enough of an issue, the Securities and Exchange Commission is now investigating the company in a probe to uncover whether it has been improperly booking its oil and gas reserves.
Despite these concerns, there is still reason to believe that ExxonMobil, with its 3.6% dividend yield, is a solid investment. Part of the reason it says it hasn't written down some of its oil and gas reserves -- as many other oil and gas companies have during the past few years -- is because it tends to book its reserves at lower prices than other energy companies do. While this difference may not fully explain its lack of write-downs, it certainly has played a part. This is important because it highlights that the company's management has been historically more conservative than most other companies in the industry, and continues to invest through the ups and down of the cycle.
There are obviously some short-term concerns for the company, but each passing day means that production from existing wells is declining, and a lack of investment today means that oil and gas prices will rise in the future. When that day does come, ExxonMobil will be well positioned to reap the benefits, and will go back to its usual method of creating shareholder value through a consistently increasing dividend and a robust share buyback program.
Toasting to success in emerging markets
The initial response that most investors will have when considering the signature products of Anheuser Busch InBev is that the company's best days of growth are behind it. Its top sellers -- Budweiser, Bud Light, Stella Artois, etc. -- still generate decent margins, but sales volumes in North America have stalled. While that may be concerning, to focus on that misses the massive opportunities ahead thanks to the acquisition of SABMiller.
The pending combination of the world's two largest brewers provides two opportunities. One is that it will be able to capitalize on economies of scale in places where they have overlapping operations such as North America and Europe; the other is that it will provide new access for AB InBev's products in a bunch of emerging markets. SABMiller is the dominant beer seller in Africa, and the two companies' footprints in South America and Asia don't have much overlap, which should lead to plenty opportunities for cross-selling.
It's not always easy to look beyond the mature beer markets when it comes to AB InBev, but emerging markets should provide a decent growth runway for years into the future to compensate for weakness elsewhere. While investors patiently wait for sales in these emerging markets to gain steam, though, the company will continue to reward its shareholders with a growing dividend that yields 3.1% today.