Sometimes, chasing high dividend yields leads to higher risks than many investors are willing to take. But for income-seeking investors, particularly retirees, relatively high yields are a must. One approach is to look for solid stocks that pay attractive yields of 3% or more instead of riskier stocks with much higher yields.

Chevron (NYSE:CVX), Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO), and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) appear to be smart picks that fit those criteria for income investors right now. Here's why.

Five stacks of coins with blocks on top spelling out "yield"

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Chevron has long been a haven for dividend-seeking investors. The oil and gas giant's 29-year streak of dividend hikes makes it a Dividend Aristocrat. The stock currently yields 3.77%, a level that should certainly be attractive to income investors.

Low oil prices have been a challenge for most companies in its sector, and Chevron is no exception. Its bottom line took a beating as crude prices fell, and its value suffered amid the asset writedowns the company made to reflect those lower prices.

Things are starting to look up again for Chevron, though. The company has several major capital project start-ups that are boosting production rates and earnings, including Gorgon, Angola LNG, Jack/St. Malo, and Alder. It continues to enjoy tremendous success in the Permian Basin especially. As a result of all of this, the company has posted back-to-back solid quarters this year.

Chevron stock might appear to be a little pricey, with shares trading at nearly 24 times expected earnings. However, assuming the company can achieve the strong earnings growth that Wall Street expects over the next few years, it doesn't look expensive at all.

Cisco Systems

Cisco Systems doesn't have the long track record of payout increases that Chevron does -- the information technology and networking leader didn't even initiate its dividend program until 2011. However, Cisco has raised its dividend every year since then, and now boasts a strong yield of 3.6%.

The company faces several risks. One of the biggest of these is that increasingly more customers are using software-defined networking on generic "white box" hardware to lower their costs. Cisco has been losing market share in its core business of selling routers and switches in part due to this trend.

Don't count Cisco out, though. It's transitioning to a subscription software model that should strengthen its position over the long run. The company is focusing heavily on software and services, and expects those two areas to contribute more than half of its revenue within the next three years. In addition, Cisco holds a massive cash stockpile of more than $70 billion (including cash, cash equivalents, and investments). Expect the company to make plenty of acquisitions to fuel growth.

Due to its lackluster growth in recent years, Cisco shares trade at only 13 times expected earnings. This cheap valuation combined with its strong dividend and long-term prospects make Cisco a smart pick right now.


Like Chevron, Pfizer has been a longtime favorite of dividend investors. Although the big drugmaker's long history of dividend increases was marred by a dividend cut during the Great Recession, the company has made its dividend a priority in recent years. Its yield now stands at a solid 3.58%.

The greatest headwind pushing against Pfizer's growth is the loss of patent exclusivity on its established treatments. Declining sales for these products have held back Pfizer's growth, causing the stock to underperform many of its peers over the last five years. 

Pfizer's future looks much more promising, however. It claims several blockbuster treatments with strong sales growth trends in its current lineup, particularly the cancer drug Ibrance. Acquisitions have landed Pfizer more winners such as atopic dermatitis drug Eucrisa and prostate cancer drug Xtandi. It also ranks No. 3 in the biopharmaceutical industry in total research and development investing, which has given the company a robust pipeline with 32 late-stage trials underway.

With shares trading at less than 13 times expected earnings, Pfizer stock appears to be attractively valued. With the company returning to stronger growth in the next few years, and the possibility of acquisitions that could drive growth even higher, it should remain a favorite for investors looking for steady dividends.

Keith Speights owns shares of Chevron and Pfizer. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron and Cisco Systems. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.