If dividend stocks were like golf, there would be an elite group of stocks with green jackets like golfing greats who win the Masters tournament get to wear. This group of winners is called the Dividend Aristocrats. It's comprised of S&P 500 stocks that have raised dividends for at least 25 years in a row.
Not all of these Dividend Aristocrats have particularly impressive yields. But we asked three Motley Fool investors to point out high-yield Dividend Aristocrat stocks that could be good picks right now. Here's why they chose ExxonMobil (XOM 1.98%), Target (TGT 2.46%), and AbbVie (ABBV 1.93%).
35 years and counting
Matt DiLallo (ExxonMobil): Big oil behemoth ExxonMobil has paid its investors a dividend for more than a century, including increasing it for the past 35 straight years. That's an impressive feat for an oil company given the volatility of oil prices, especially considering the deep downturn of the last few years, which led several rivals to reduce their payouts. However, because of the strength of Exxon's balance sheet and its underlying operations, the company has had the financial resources to continue returning cash to investors.
ExxonMobil's balance sheet strength, which includes the industry's best credit rating, provided the company with the financial flexibility to continue paying dividends and investing in new growth projects during the sector's recent downturn, giving it time to reposition its cost structure and adjust to lower oil prices. Those strategic initiatives started bearing fruit last quarter, enabling the company to generate a whopping $7.1 billion in cash, which was enough to easily cover the $3.3 billion quarterly dividend outlay as well as the bulk of its $3.9 billion capex tab. Those results show that the oil giant's dividend is on solid ground even in the current low oil price environment.
Meanwhile, because Exxon has kept growing during the downturn, it currently yields an impressive 3.8%. That certainly qualifies it as a high yielder since it's nearly double the yield of the S&P 500. That growing income stream should continue heading to investors for at least the next several years considering that oil demand keeps rising, meaning the oil giant should remain a reliable option for investors seekers.
A sustainable retail dividend
Tim Green (Target): Shares of retailer Target have slumped nearly 13% this year, dragged down by pessimism surrounding brick-and-mortar retailers. This has boosted Target's dividend yield to about 3.9%, making the stock an attractive option for dividend investors. Target has increased its dividend for 46 years in a row, and it has paid a quarterly dividend uninterrupted since 1967.
Target is in the process of adapting to a changing retail industry. It's investing in its e-commerce business, launching initiatives like next-day delivery for household essentials. The e-commerce business grew by 32% year over year during the second quarter, double the rate Target managed during the second quarter of 2016.
Exclusive brands and small-format stores are also part of the plan. Target has launched a handful of private-label brands this year, including A New Day, Goodfellow & Co, and Project 62. More new brands are in the pipeline, with the company betting that these new products will give customers a reason to visit its stores. Target also plans to open dozens of small-format stores in cities over the next couple of years, diversifying away from its big-box model.
Target's dividend growth will likely be slow for the foreseeable future as the company invests in these initiatives. The payout ratio is a bit below 50% for the past 12 months, so there's still some room for the dividend to expand even if earnings growth remains sluggish. Target's dividend growth track record should give investors some confidence that those dividend checks will continue getting a little bigger each year.
A three-in-one aristocrat
Keith Speights (AbbVie): 1972. That's the year that started AbbVie's remarkable streak of dividend hikes. Granted, for most of the ensuing period, AbbVie was part of its parent company, Abbott Labs. However, the drugmaker still qualifies as a Dividend Aristocrat. I think AbbVie is a "growth aristocrat" and "value aristocrat," too.
First, though, there's AbbVie's dividend yield of over 3% (boosted by a just-announced dividend hike for 2018). That's lower than its yield for most of its history as a stand-alone company. The reason why is AbbVie's tremendous stock performance in 2017. With the drugmaker continuing to raise its dividend, the yield will either go higher or its stock will. Either way, investors win.
That leads to my view of AbbVie as a "growth aristocrat." The stock has soared close to 50% this year. Wall Street analysts expect AbbVie to grow earnings by more than 15% annually over the next five years. With the top-selling drug in the world (Humira), one of the fastest-growing cancer drugs in the world (Imbruvica), and the third-best pipeline in the biopharmaceutical industry, it's easy to see how that growth can be achieved.
What about the "value aristocrat" status? Despite its huge gains, AbbVie stock trades at only 14 times expected earnings. That's a downright bargain considering the company's excellent dividend and strong growth potential. I have no doubt that AbbVie will remain a Dividend Aristocrat and a "growth aristocrat" for years to come, but that "value aristocrat" designation might not last much longer.