Retirees should generally look for two qualities in stocks -- security and income. Ideal picks are established companies with wide moats and a long history of dividend hikes.
Give Ma Bell a chance
Leo Sun (AT&T): Retirees should mostly invest in big, boring companies with dependable high yields. AT&T fits the bill to a "T" with a forward dividend yield of 5.5%, a low payout ratio of 41%, and over three decades of annual dividend hikes. That streak makes it an elite Dividend Aristocrat of the S&P 500 -- companies that have raised their payouts annually for over 25 years.
AT&T is the second largest wireless carrier, top wireline services provider, and biggest pay TV provider in America -- thanks to its acquisition of DirecTV in 2015. If it closes its planned takeover of Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) -- the parent company of Warner Bros., HBO, and the Turner cable networks -- it will also become one of the biggest media companies in the world.
AT&T uses bundling options and synergies between those business units -- which include data-free streaming video for wireless subscribers and cost-effective bundles of broadband, pay TV, and wireless services -- to widen its moat against rivals like Verizon and T-Mobile. AT&T also offers stand-alone wireless subscriptions for connected cars, wearable devices, and other connected gadgets.
AT&T faces several near term headwinds -- including slowing smartphone upgrades in the saturated U.S. market, ongoing losses of video subscribers, high debt levels, potential antitrust issues with the Time Warner takeover, and higher interest rates clobbering dividend stocks. But as in the past, Ma Bell should overcome these issues, continue paying out its dividend, and let retirees rest easy with its dull, but predictable, returns.
The golden arches
Tim Green (McDonald's): Shares of fast-food giant McDonald's have slumped about 17% since peaking earlier this year. The stock still is not cheap, but it's a solid dividend stock well-suited for retirees. The company's recent results have been impressive, despite a rough environment for the restaurant industry. And the dividend has been increased annually for 42 straight years.
During the fourth quarter, McDonald's managed to grow global comparable sales by 5.5%, with guest counts growing in all segments. The company spent 2017 rolling out various initiatives, including online ordering and pick-up via its mobile app and delivery via UberEATS. Convenience has always been a pillar of McDonald's business model, and these efforts take it a step further.
McDonald's pays a $1.01 quarterly dividend per share, good for a yield of about 2.7%. That dividend should continue to march higher each year, adding to the company's four-decade streak of dividend increases. The dividend eats up about 63% of annual earnings, so it should be safe barring a steep earnings decline.
McDonald's has been around for a long time, and so has its dividend. If you want a stable dividend stock that you won't have to worry too much about, McDonald's is a good choice.
A rock-solid healthcare bet
Jeremy Bowman (Johnson & Johnson): Retirees want dividend stocks that will be stable and dependable in any kind of market and deliver steady growth and a rising quarterly payout. When I think of a stock with that kind of reliability, I think of Johnson & Johnson.
The 132-year-old diversified healthcare giant offers even more security than the average healthcare stock as it operates in three distinct sectors -- consumer goods, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals. That diversification protects it from some of the risks that pure-play drugmakers face, like patent cliffs, and the nature of healthcare keeps demand for its products solid even in down markets and recessions.
Today, J&J offers a 2.6% dividend yield. The company also is a Dividend Aristocrat, having raised its dividend 55 years in a row. The dividend payout has doubled over the last 10 years, as recent annual increases have been in the 5%-7% range. The healthcare stalwart also has a reasonable dividend payout ratio at just 46%, meaning the company has plenty of room to continue lifting its payout even if earnings growth slows.
Finally, the stock is just one of two U.S. companies, along with Microsoft, to get a AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor's, a sign of the strength of the company's business model and financial position.
Following a recent post-earnings sell-off, Johnson & Johnson shares have fallen 10% since January. That pullback looks like a great opportunity to get a piece of this rock-solid dividend stock.