At its core, that's what the vast majority of dividend investors are looking for. Many such investors are nearing retirement and want to sleep well at night, knowing that their investments are safe and will supply a reliable stream of income.
Catching the "next big thing," or a stock that zooms 500% in less than a year, might sound exciting. But to your average dividend investor, that's more of a distraction than anything else.
Here, three Motley Fool investors offer up the types of stocks that -- while they might not produce market-thumping results -- can still thrive in both bull and bear markets. Read below to see why J.M. Smucker (NYSE:SJM), General Mills (NYSE:GIS), and Magellan Midstream Partners (NYSE:MMP) are all dividend stocks that can produce for you in up and down markets.
Keep it simple
Brian Stoffel (J.M. Smucker): I'm not one to invest in defensive dividend stocks of this type. That's why I don't own -- or have made a bullish CAPS call on -- J.M. Smucker. But I still have decades until retirement. If that day were on the horizon, J.M. Smucker would be at the top of my list of stocks to own.
The company behind its eponymous jellies, Folgers coffee, Pillsbury baked treats, Jif peanut butter, and Crisco oils won't win any contests for price appreciation. But its products are in demand no matter the economic climate. And thanks to reliable cash flows, the dividend is very safe.
Currently yielding 3%, shares of Smucker are trading for less than 14 times free cash flow. What's more, only 38% of that free cash flow was used on the dividend, meaning there's still lots of room for growth as well.
Those dynamics might help explain how the stock has outperformed the S&P 500 by 65 percentage points over the past 10 years -- a time frame that includes both bear and bull markets.
Betting on brands
Tim Green (General Mills): Shares of packaged-food company General Mills haven't performed well this year. The stock is down more than 18% year to date, with uninspiring performance coupled with fears related to the Amazon.com-Whole Foods Market tie-up sending investors to exits. But General Mills, with its stable of strong, well-known brands, is exactly the kind of stock that can hold up during a bear market.
General Mills wasn't immune to the financial crisis, but the stock recovered quickly, and the company's results barely missed a beat. Earnings increased in both fiscal 2009 and 2010, as consumers stuck with the company's brands. And the dividend has continued to march higher. General Mills paid out $0.86 per share in dividends in fiscal 2009. Last year, that number had jumped to $1.92 per share, good for a yield of about 3.9%.
General Mills is certainly facing challenges. Its cereal and yogurt businesses aren't doing well in North America, and increased competition in the grocery business, with Amazon looking to make a splash and Wal-Mart looking to defend its turf, could put downward pressure on prices. But the next time a bear market rears its ugly head, you'll want to own shares of companies that have powered through bear markets of the past. General Mills is a prime example.
Contract revenue: built for both bulls and bears
Tyler Crowe (Magellan Midstream Partners): Magellan Midstream Partners has a cornucopia of traits that make an incredibly reliable stock that has grown consistently since its IPO back in 2001. The easiest one to point to is its network of refined petroleum product pipelines. As it stands, the company owns the largest network of refined product pipes in the country and directly serves 16 states with pipeline access and another six through product terminals. Even though we see the price of gasoline and diesel fluctuate from time to time, overall demand remains rather consistent and keeps Magellan's pipes working full time.
It also helps that almost all of the company's revenue comes from fixed fee contracts, which means that no matter the price of gasoline or diesel at any given moment, Magellan gets the same price. According to management's presentations, more than 85% of the company's revenue stream comes from these fixed fee sources, which ensures a level of predictability year in, year out.
Perhaps the most important aspect is that management uses these traits effectively to generate consistent distribution growth for investors. Ever since its IPO, Magellan has grown its payout to investors by 12% annually, which has translated to fantastic returns for its investors.
Doing something that's boring and essential can be a great formula for compounded returns over time. Moving gasoline and diesel to end markets fits that description well, and Magellan's management team has been effective at translating that formula into outstanding performance in just about every market.
Brian Stoffel has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Timothy Green has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Tyler Crowe owns shares of Magellan Midstream Partners. The Motley Fool recommends Magellan Midstream Partners. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.