High yields on a stock can often be a warning sign for investors, indicating the market doesn't think the high payout will last long. But the market can sometimes assign too much risk to dividends, presenting an opportunity for investors.
We asked three of our investors for their top high-yield dividend stocks, and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), Royal Dutch Shell plc (NYSE:RDS-B), and Las Vegas Sands Corp. (NYSE:LVS) were on the buy list.
A classic telecom play
Leo Sun (Verizon Communications): Verizon's stock has fallen about 13% this year due to five straight quarters of annual revenue declines. That weakness was attributed to the sluggish growth of its wireless business, which faces cheaper and unlimited plans across the market.
Verizon is addressing that weakness by expanding its online media ecosystem with the acquisitions of AOL and Yahoo's internet business. But those purchases -- along with its $130 billion buyout of Vodafone's stake in Verizon Wireless three years ago -- caused its debt levels to surge. Analysts expect Verizon's revenue and earnings to respectively dip 1% and 2% this year, so investors aren't eagerly buying the stock.
However, Verizon's problems aren't as bad as they seem. The integration of AOL and Yahoo will enable it to expand its "sponsored data" ecosystem -- which lets users stream media that doesn't count toward their data caps. That could boost its advertising revenues and widen its moat against smaller wireless rivals.
Its long-term debt is high ($117 billion), but only $1.2 billion matures within a year. It's also selling off non-core assets, like its wireline and cloud businesses, to extinguish that debt.
Verizon pays a dividend yield of 5.1%, which is supported by a payout ratio of 59%. It's also raised its payout annually for 11 straight years. Its P/E (price-to-earnings) ratio of 12 is also much lower than the industry average of 21 for telecom companies.
Verizon still faces headwinds, but its high yield and low valuation make it a solid income play.
One big oil giant that's investing in the future
Jason Hall (Royal Dutch Shell): Demand for crude oil is going to start declining at some point, and I'm of the opinion that it very well could happen sooner than many expect. I think it's probably going to be a good thing for the world, since an acceleration of the use of renewables, like wind and solar, and the use of electric vehicles to offset demand for gasoline and diesel, would be a step toward a cleaner, safer world.
At the same time, the push toward cleaner fuels is actually good news for one hydrocarbon: natural gas. Over the next couple of decades, demand for natural gas to offset coal and to make things like fertilizer, car tires, and plastics, is set to increase.
This is why Royal Dutch Shell has made natural gas its focus. Over the past few years, the company has shed other non-core assets, using the proceeds to pay down debt, while also slashing costs, and is starting to see the fruits of those efforts. So far this year, the company has generated $20 billion in operating cash flows and again started generating free cash flow. Here's its quarterly cash flows since 2016:
Shell's "B" shares yield 6.3% at recent prices, a strong payout that management intends to continue -- and eventually grow. With strong global demand growth for natural gas, Shell's high yield and strong prospects are worth a hard look.
The gambling stock to bet on
Travis Hoium (Las Vegas Sands): The gambling world may not be the first place you think of to look for dividend stocks, but they're actually perfect for high-yield investors. Once a casino is built, it spits off cash year after year, and as long as a company doesn't have too much debt, the operator should be able to generate excess cash for decades.
Las Vegas Sands is not only one of the industry's leaders, with a presence in Las Vegas, Macau, and Singapore, it has one of the best balance sheets, as well. You can see that debt-to-EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) is only 2.3, lower than all of its major competitors, and a very conservative ratio for a gaming company.
What I like long term is that Las Vegas Sands is generating billions in cash flow each year and doesn't have any major projects to build on the horizon. It's going to be a cash-flow machine, focusing on dividends and buybacks with its excess cash. And with a 4.6% dividend yield today, the stock is a great buy for investors.
Jason Hall owns shares of Royal Dutch Shell (B Shares). Leo Sun owns shares of Las Vegas Sands and Verizon Communications. Travis Hoium owns shares of Verizon Communications and Vodafone. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.