Chevrolet parent General Motors (GM 4.40%) offers a generous dividend yield of 4.4% these days. That juicy payout keeps investors coming back for more, even if the stock itself isn't exactly conquering Wall Street.
So we asked a few Motley Fool contributors to share some alternatives to GM's attractive dividend yields. Read on to see why our panelists recommended Pitney Bowes (PBI 0.53%), National Grid (NGG -1.22%), and AT&T (T 0.27%).
A 6% yield
Tim Green (AT&T): Major telecom companies are usually big dividend payers, and AT&T is no exception. Thanks to a slump in the stock price this year, shares of AT&T now yield about 6%. That's well above the dividend yield GM offers.
Investing in AT&T doesn't come without risks. With the market for smartphones mostly saturated in the U.S., competition for subscribers among the major wireless carriers will probably keep a lid on pricing, and a full-blown price war could ding AT&T's bottom line. AT&T also took on a boatload of debt to fund its acquisition of Time Warner. That will help the company diversify and cross-sell products and services, but dividend investors should always be wary of rising debt loads.
The good news is that the barrier to entry into AT&T's core wireless business is astronomically high. That should ensure plenty of free cash flow generation in the coming years, even as the company continues to invest in its business.
AT&T has produced $19.8 billion of free cash flow over the past 12 months, compared with $12.2 billion paid out as dividends. That leaves a decent margin of safety for dividend investors, although they shouldn't expect much more than sluggish dividend growth. Still, a 6% yield coupled with dividend growth of around 2% annually makes AT&T an attractive dividend stock.
Boring stocks can be beautiful, too
Anders Bylund (Pitney Bowes): This is not a classic Dividend Aristocrat, nor an exciting growth investment. As a maker of postage meters and mail service equipment, Pitney Bowes runs a low-margin business model with stable sales and shrinking earnings. Look up "boring business" in a dictionary, and you'll see Pitney Bowes' logo as the definition.
But Pitney Bowes remains an effective cash machine, turning 8% of its annual revenue into free cash flow. And the company may not be in the habit of boosting its payouts all that often, but the dividend yield stands at a generous 11.5% today, and I'd be downright shocked if Pitney Bowes decided to reduce its dividend payouts anytime soon.
On top of the muscular dividend yield, Pitney Bowes also serves as an interesting turnaround play. Mail and shipment services will never be seen as rocket fuel for investors, but those services actually offer a convincing case for long-term stability thanks to the global rise of e-commerce retailing. Online purchases of physical goods don't really work if you take away the shipping function, so Pitney Bowes has established partnerships with e-commerce giants such as eBay and Amazon.com in recent years. Expect those deals to grow in importance over the years, and Pitney Bowes might start reporting revenue growth again in the mid-2020s.
I know, I know -- this dividend yield rests on a plunging share price, and my proposed turnaround idea will take many years to materialize. This isn't the perfect dividend play for everyone. But if you're OK with taking the very long view, you get to enjoy that beefy yield until Pitney Bowes finally finds some traction for its internet-based plans.
Just make sure to reinvest the payouts into more stock at ultra-cheap share prices along the way. Today, Pitney Bowes is trading at 6.7 times trailing earnings and 0.4 times trailing sales. It wouldn't take much of a rebound to unlock far higher valuation multiples -- just a gentle and very achievable return to long-term stability.
Steady growth, big yield, cheap price
Brian Feroldi (National Grid): Utilities are a natural fit for income investors because they're monopolies that sell a product that remains in demand in all economic conditions. However, utilities that produce their own power have to deal with huge swings in energy commodity prices, which can hinder their earnings power during periods of soaring prices.
That's what makes National Grid such an attractive long-term investment. Though the company is a utility, it doesn't actually produce power; instead, it owns the distribution and transmission pipes that connect power producers and consumers in the U.S. and UK. By sidestepping the risks associated with producing power, the company enjoys extremely stable demand and earns highly predictable returns on its assets. In turn, the company passes along the bulk of its profits back to investors in the form of a meaty dividend, which currently yields about 5.8%.
While National Grid's business is as rock-solid as they come, the company's stock has been trending lower for the past two years. The decline could be caused by the company's decision to sell a portion of its natural gas distribution business in the UK that acts as a drag on the company's revenue and profits. Currency movements have also been wreaking havoc on the company's results. However, if you look beyond the headlines, you can see that the company is producing steady growth and continues to project 5% to 7% growth over the long term.
If you're an income investor, that's an attractive total return proposition.