Dividend stocks play a key role in a good retirement portfolio, but investing indiscriminately in companies just because they offer a big yield or have a recent history of payout growth will likely cause your portfolio's performance to fall short of its potential. 

To help you find high-quality, dividend-paying companies that are positioned to elevate portfolio performance, we assembled a panel of three Motley Fool contributors and asked each to profile a top income-generating investment. Read on to see why they think McCormick (NYSE:MKC), Hanesbrands (NYSE:HBI), and IBM (NYSE:IBM) are dividend stocks that can help investors build a golden retirement nest egg.  

A golden egg in a nest that's resting on a piece of wood.

Image source: Getty Images.

Spice up your yield

Demitri Kalogeropoulos (McCormick): The wider consumer foods industry is struggling with weak sales gains and rising costs, but spice and flavorings specialist McCormick is bucking that negative trend in ways that suggest it could make a great long-term income investment.

Sales rose in both its core spice portfolio and in its newly acquired condiments franchises last quarter, with overall revenue up 14%. McCormick was able to pass along higher prices across its franchises, too, and added help from a shift toward high-margin products like Frank's hot sauce sent gross profit margin up to 44% of sales from 41% of sales a year ago.

McCormick recently paused its buyback spending so that management can focus on paying down the $4 billion of debt it took on to acquire its portfolio additions last year. Yet this Dividend Aristocrat's strong earnings and healthy cash flow give it plenty of room to continue boosting its payout through 2020, when executives believe they'll have the debt burden back down to its historical average. From there, income investors should see dividend growth speed up even more to track McCormick's expectations for market-beating profit gains over the long term. 

A safe, cheap dividend

Tim Green (Hanesbrands): Shares of apparel manufacturer Hanesbrands have sunk roughly 50% since peaking in early 2015. The company's core innerwear business has been struggling, but the international and activewear businesses have been picking up the slack. Acquisitions have helped drive up revenue and profits in recent years, while organic sales growth has been less than impressive.

This decline in the stock price has pushed the dividend yield up to 3.6%. That's the highest yield since Hanesbrands began paying a dividend in 2013. Earnings are expected to stumble this year, due to a higher tax rate, higher interest expense, and some margin erosion. But the dividend remains safe, accounting for just 34% of the average analyst estimate for full-year adjusted earnings.

Even though earnings are under pressure, there are plenty of reasons to buy and hold Hanesbrands stock. The company's brands, which include Hanes, Champion, and Playtex, are time-tested and well-known. Almost 90% of U.S. households contain Hanesbrands products, according to the company. Hanesbrands also operates its own manufacturing facilities in Asia and Central America, giving it a cost advantage compared to rivals that outsource production.

And on top of the high dividend yield, the stock trades for just 9.5 times the average analyst estimate for 2018 adjusted earnings. While the company's results may be shaky in the near term, Hanesbrands is a solid dividend stock to buy and hold for the long haul.

Big yield and rebound potential

Keith Noonan (International Business Machines): Compared to other big names in the tech space, IBM has developed a reputation as being something of a boring investment. The computer hardware business that was the company's bread and butter over the last half-century has suffered eroding demand over the last decade, causing sales to slip and prompting many investors to avoid the stock or own it primarily for its dividend. Within a certain context, that reputation is deserved. However, "boring" isn't necessarily an undesirable quality when it comes to retirement investing.

IBM has delivered annual dividend growth for 23 years running, and more than tripled its payout over the last decade. Looking further back, the company has paid an annual dividend without interruption since 1902, and it's positioned to continue strengthening its already attractive returned-income component. Even with rapid payout growth in recent years and a 4.8% yield, Big Blue's trailing earnings and free cash flow each cover the cost of its forward distribution more than twice over. Shareholders should bank on their annual dividend continue to climb predictably going forward, and there are also signs that the company's core business could be primed for a sustained rebound.

On a currency-adjusted basis, the company has delivered sales growth in two of its last four quarters and posted flat sales in the other two quarters as gains for cloud, security, mobile, and analytics businesses have offset declines for its legacy hardware and service products. With IBM's growth businesses now accounting for roughly half of its total sales and a favorable outlook for the enterprise cloud services space, the stock doesn't appear to have much downside trading at roughly 9.5 times this year's expected earnings. Big Blue might continue to be a boring stock, the kind that doesn't see much capital appreciation and produces dependable and sizable payouts to fund your nest egg, but it could become a lot more exciting as well.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.