Dividend stocks are hot commodities in today's low-interest-rate environment, and that popularity has produced steep valuations among the biggest, best-known players. So we asked our investors to highlight a few companies that aren't on everyone's watch list yet still boast impressive income fundamentals.
Gas up with this dividend stock
Dan Caplinger (Northwest Natural Gas): Many dividend stocks are well-known, especially in an environment in which investors are hungry for portfolio income. Yet even in recent years, some key dividend stocks have flown under the radar. Northwest Natural Gas is one of them, as the gas utility company has a history of treating its shareholders well that is nearly unparalleled among its peers in the stock market.
Northwest Natural Gas is a gas utility that serves the Oregon and southwestern Washington area in the Pacific Northwest. The company also provides underground natural gas storage for the local and national markets. That simple business model isn't all that exciting, but it has put Northwest Natural Gas among just a handful of stocks that have boosted their dividend payments each and every year for at least 60 years.
At 2.9%, Northwest Natural Gas' dividend yield isn't particularly remarkable among utilities, and its most recent quarter-cent boost to $0.4725 per share suggests some of the challenges that the company faces right now. Nevertheless, to have done so well for so long is noteworthy, and that's why Northwest Natural Gas deserves notice from income investors looking for reliable dividends and a solid track record of consistent payout growth.
Thirsty for income
Demitri Kalogeropoulos (SJW Group): SJW Group is a water company whose primary market is the 230,000 homes and businesses it services in California's San Jose metropolitan area. As a public utility, it has no real competition. But in exchange for that monopoly shareholders must accept an unusually high level of regulation. Any pricing changes SJW wants to make must be approved by the local government, for example.
That setup has been ideal for long-term dividend growth. In fact, SJW's 7.4% payout hike this year marked its 50th consecutive annual raise. The boost followed a strong operating year in which net income jumped 40% to over $50 million.
Investors can't count on that kind of sharp profit growth occurring regularly. After all, large swings in operating expenses are common, as SJW's water supply access shifts with the rate of rainfall each year. Recent drought conditions put pressure on revenue while at the same time raising the cost of water production. Yet SJW has a long track record of producing steady income gains. And management aims to return between 50% and 60% of net income to shareholders in the form of dividends. Sure, at 1.4% you won't get a particularly large yield out of this investment. But it's a highly dependable payout that comes with a decent shot at stock price appreciation as SJW services a wider market over time.
Getting greedy when others are fearful
Jason Hall (Pattern Energy Group Inc): With a recent dip in its stock price pushing the yield above 8%, little-known Pattern Energy should be on your short list of dividend stocks to consider.
Pattern Energy owns either outright or partial stakes in 20 wind energy facilities located in the U.S., Canada, and Chile, and has a plan to double its power-generating capacity -- and the cash flows from it -- by 2020. Its steady growth has allowed the company to increase its dividend every quarter since 2014 -- up 35% since the first dividend was issued in 2013.
The stock price is down almost 20% from its 2017 peak at this writing, as the market reacts to fears that Congress will remove tax benefits for solar and wind as part of tax reform. If these proposals make it to the final law, that wouldn't be great for Pattern Energy.
But CEO Michael Garland -- who owns about 6% of the company -- isn't concerned. First, Pattern's current pipeline is made up of about 60% non-U.S. projects, giving the company a solid growth platform even if tax reform significantly alters U.S. tax credits for renewables. Furthermore, Garland pointed out that the company is set for a net benefit if corporate tax rates are indeed lowered, and multiple members of Congress have unequivocally stated they won't support a bill without renewable tax credits.
The market seems to be acting in fear of a worst-case scenario that's very unlikely, and that's created an excellent opportunity for investors today.