As perhaps the most ubiquitous fast-food company in the world, McDonald's (MCD 1.12%) has managed to raise its dividend every year since it started paying investors in 1976. And even with McDonald's impressive share price appreciation, that dividend offers a delicious annual yield of 2.35% as of this writing.
But that's not to say McDonald's is the only dividend-paying stock worth your consideration. To that end, we asked three top Motley Fool investors to each pick a stock that pays you even more than McDonald's does. Read on to learn why they chose Darden Restaurants (DRI 0.47%), Target (TGT 1.90%), and Domtar (UFS).
Take off your jacket and stay awhile
Steve Symington (Darden Restaurants): If you're looking for an alternative to the king of fast food, why not consider one of its higher-yielding counterparts in the casual dining space like Olive Garden parent Darden Restaurants? Darden offers a solid 2.64% annual yield at today's prices, slightly above McDonald's at 2.35%.
Incidentally, shares of Darden just popped nearly 7% in a single day earlier this week, helped not only by the incremental sales of its acquisition of Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen earlier this year, but also by a stronger-than-expected quarterly report that included a solid 3.1% increase in same-restaurant sales from its legacy brands. And it's not as though Darden's results were propped up by just Olive Garden, where comps climbed 3%; growth was broad-based, including a 6.8% increase at Eddie V's locations, 3% growth at Yard House, 2.5% at Bahama Breeze, and 3.8% growth at both The Capital Grille and LongHorn Steakhouse. In fact, the only brand Darden owns that experienced a decline last quarter was Seasons 52, a small 41-restaurant chain where comps fell a narrow 0.5%.
That's an incredible feat considering today's increasingly crowded dining market. Darden CEO Gene Lee credited their relative strength to his company's "back-to-basics operating philosophy, which is grounded in food, service, and atmosphere."
So even though Darden stock enjoyed a recent bump, I think investors who buy now and reinvest that appetizing dividend will be rewarded as Darden sustains its momentum.
Still a chance to hit the bull's-eye
Rich Duprey (Target): It's not an easy feat to keep up with the meteoric rise of the fast-food chain, which has gained regardless of whether its business has been firing on all cylinders or not, but Target may be a surprising call to ring up a bigger dividend check than you'd get from the Golden Arches.
Brick-and-mortar retail is all but dead, succumbing to the ravages of e-commerce generally and Amazon.com (AMZN -0.16%) specifically, but many businesses don't know they're supposed to have expired and are pulling out all the stops to fight back. Target is a case in point; it just bought the delivery service Shipt for $550 million, which will allow customers to purchase groceries and other products online and have them shipped to their door from local Target stores. It piggybacks on Target's acquisition earlier this year of Grand Junction, which provides logistic services for next-day and same-day delivery.
While delivery is becoming a key component for retail, making the purchase process as smooth, simple, and convenient as possible, having a shipping service doesn't guarantee you success. What it does is ensure you don't fall behind. Just as having a mobile app doesn't distinguish a company anymore, not having one can be killer.
Target, however, will end up having same-day delivery at about half of its more than 1,800 stores by next summer, and almost all of them will have it by the time next Christmas rolls around.
Target is playing for keeps and is not willing to roll over -- and considering it has been left for dead, investors have a chance to gain handsomely if it pays off. With a dividend that yields 4% currently, its a healthier, tastier morsel than what a diner can find at McDonald's.
Powering personal care brands
Maxx Chatsko (Domtar): Stable, mature, and boring businesses often pay the most generous and most sustainable dividends. Domtar checks all three boxes -- and boasts a 3.4% dividend yield to boot. The company operates in one of the oldest industries on the planet: pulp and paper, which got its start in China thousands of years ago. Ironically, today the country wields the largest and newest paper machines in the world, which has relegated many older mills in North America obsolete and forced surviving producers to focus mostly on specialty industries.
In the last decade or so, Domtar has recalibrated its business to focus on selling three types of pulp, several niche types of paper, and "absorbent hygiene" personal care products ranging from baby to adult diapers and everything in between. The strategy covers the full vertical of specialty paper products, from the finest pulp to the highest-margin consumer products. The result: bountiful and predictable cash flow.
Through the first nine months of 2017, the pulp and paper manufacturer generated $324 million in operating cash flow, paid out $78 million in dividends, and retired $135 million in debt -- and still had cash left over. Management's decision to retire debt at the current pace is intriguing. Domtar's balance sheet entered the year boasting a debt-to-assets ratio of 23.5%, a healthy level, but will end the year below 20%.
That opens up quite a few interesting scenarios for what happens with the extra cash flow once debt retirement takes a back seat. Domtar could pull the trigger on an acquisition to expand its personal care business, which has grown from 16% of total sales in 2015 to 19.4% of total sales through the first three quarters of 2017. The company could easily grow the dividend through an increased payout or share repurchase program. Or it could pursue any number of growth-minded activities. Simply put, this a solid dividend stock with plenty of potential in the near future.
The bottom line
There's no way to absolutely guarantee that Darden Restaurants, Target, and Domtar will outperform McDonald's or the broader market. But we like their chances given their histories of industry leadership, current business states, and generous capital returns. For investors looking for a steady stream of income and the chance for compelling share price gains, these three businesses are worth a look.