Buying and holding strong dividend stocks is arguably the best way to predictably generate wealth. And few companies can claim as much success to that end than PepsiCo (PEP 1.00%). The soft-drink titan has raised its payout for 45 consecutive years, and its dividend currently offers a healthy annual yield of just over 2.7%.
But PepsiCo isn't the only compelling dividend stock our market has to offer. So we asked three top Motley Fool investors to each discuss a stock that has an even higher yield than PepsiCo. Read on to learn why they picked Coca-Cola (KO 0.20%), Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD 0.29%), and Merck (MRK 0.53%).
This archrival has a better yield
Steve Symington (Coca-Cola): Putting aside the age-old debate over whether Pepsi or Coke tastes better, one thing is for sure: After increasing its dividend for each of the past 55 years, Coca-Cola's 3.2% yield reigns supreme over PepsiCo's payout at today's share prices.
And while I certainly can't knock PepsiCo's shared leadership with Coca-Cola over the global nonalcoholic beverage market, the latter's business offers plenty for investors to like in its own right. The company only recently held its first investor day since 2009, outlining goals for achieving steady long-term revenue growth of 4% to 6%, focusing on more efficient cash flow generation, and -- thanks much to the refranchising of its bottling operations -- expanding operating margin to 35% by 2020, up from 27.4% in its most recent quarter.
In addition, Coca-Cola will renew its focus on promising bolt-on acquisitions, which -- combined with its existing nonsoda brands and in-house innovations -- should serve to further accelerate its diversification away from soft drinks as people continue to consume fewer sweetened beverages.
For patient investors willing to buy now and watch as Coca-Cola's new financial strategy takes hold, I think it's as compelling a dividend stock as they come.
Daniel Miller (Anheuser-Busch InBev): If you're looking for a better dividend yield than PepsiCo offers, you won't have to even venture outside the beverage industry. Anheuser-Busch InBev is the largest brewer in the world and, after its SABMiller acquisition, owns 18 brands with retail sales surpassing $1 billion. When you consider the massive beverage company's 3.44% dividend yield, the stock is even more appealing.
What should impress investors is just how easy Anheuser-Busch makes success look. The strategy is simple: Make smart acquisitions with growth prospects and then create synergy by cutting cost. Of course, for the vast majority of companies, it's not that simple. One look at Anheuser's third-quarter EBITDA margins and you'll understand that management has executed its game plan flawlessly: It expanded those margins by 353 basis points to an impressive 38.9%.
Anheuser's future should be equally bright. The company will be able to use its presence in multiple developing markets over the next decade, including China, Mexico, Russia, and India. As those developing markets grow and become wealthier, it's also likely there will be a shift to more premium beers, which would only boost Anheuser's revenue and profits. With the plethora of successful brands, a proven management team, and dividend yield of 3.44%, investors would be hard-pressed to find a better dividend stock.
A prescription for healthy dividend income
Sean Williams (Merck): Though PepsiCo delivers a pretty bubbly 2.8% yield that income investors are bound to appreciate, big pharma Merck might just be a better choice for dividend seekers.
Aside from the fact that Merck's 3.4% yield is actually higher than PepsiCo, the biggest differences between the two relates to future growth opportunities and inelasticity.
Beginning with the latter, it could be argued that both PepsiCo and Merck are somewhat resistant to recessions. But keep in mind that soda is still a discretionary purchase. Meanwhile, prescription medicines are not. You have no control over when you get sick or what ailment you contract, meaning there's a steady stream of business for Merck in both good and poor economic times. It also suggests that Merck, not PepsiCo, will have the stronger pricing power, even if PepsiCo is by far the more consumer-facing brand of the two.
The second sizable difference is that PepsiCo is more or less plodding along by relying on its brand names and price increases to deliver low single-digit growth. Meanwhile, Merck, which is almost entirely beyond its patent hump -- whereby a number of key drugs lost their sales exclusivity -- could grow much more quickly. The key will be the performance of cancer immunotherapy Keytruda, which has been approved in a number of first- and second-line advanced cancer indications. This is a drug that, for select advanced cancer patients who'd tried numerous lines of therapy, demonstrated remarkable increases in response rates, duration of response, and even survival. Its peak annual sales could easily top $5 billion, and may even approach $10 billion depending on its success in future combination and monotherapy studies.
If you like set-it-and-forget-it dividend stocks, then Merck could be worth a closer look.
The bottom line
To be fair, the mere fact that Coca-Cola, AB InBev, and Merck have higher dividends certainly can't guarantee their respective stocks will outperform PepsiCo going forward. But they're all incredible businesses that operate from positions of strength and industry leadership -- and those are enviable traits any dividend-seeking investor can appreciate.