Behind every great portfolio you'll almost always find rock-solid dividend stocks. Aside from the fact that dividend-paying companies have historically outperformed stocks that don't pay a dividend, they bring a handful of other advantages to the table.
As an example, dividend-paying stocks are usually very profitable and have time-tested business models. It's unlikely that a company would consistently share a percentage of its earnings with investors if its management team and board of directors didn't foresee continued profitability and growth. In essence, dividend stocks are like a big waving flag courting income-seeking investors to financially sound companies.
Dividend stocks are also the perfect recipe to calm investors' nerves during inevitable stock market corrections. There has been a correction of at least 10% in the broad-based S&P 500, on average, every 1.86 years since 1950. These corrections are known to put investors' emotions into overdrive, which is where dividend stocks come into play. While dividends themselves are highly unlikely to cancel out short-term paper losses in your portfolio, the downside hedge provided by a company sharing a percentage of its earnings with shareholders can ease that pain a bit.
And, of course, the importance of dividend reinvestment plans, or DRIPs, can't be overstated enough. Rather than just having a dividend deposited into your portfolio as cash, investors can often choose to have their dividend reinvested into more shares of dividend-paying stock. In doing so, both the investors' ownership stake and dividend payout increase over time, leading to rapid wealth creation. This is one of the most commonly employed strategies of money managers when looking to build wealth for their clients.
The elite of the elite among dividend stocks
But as we all know, no two dividend stocks are alike. There are a class of a few dozen dividend stocks that stand on a Mount Olympus of sorts among income stocks for having increased their payout for at least 25 consecutive years. These companies are affably known as "Dividend Aristocrats." Among these aristocrats stand seven dividend-paying businesses that are the elite of the elite. The following seven dividend stocks have increased their payout for at least 60 years in a row... and counting.
American States Water: 64-year streak
California water and electric utility American States Water (NYSE:AWR) is anything but a household name. However, it currently leads well over 3,000 publicly traded companies as the dividend stock with the longest active streak of increasing its payout: 64 years.
American States Water's secret to success is its regulated business model and small (but regular) acquisitions. Although having its rate hikes regulated by a commission might seem like a hindrance to profitability, it actually creates very predictable cash flow, which has worked in the company's favor.
Also helping are American States Water's acquisitions, which help bring in new customers. These buyouts tend to be relatively small in scale so as not to burden the company's balance sheet, which currently has $389 million in net debt.
Although water and electricity are basic-need services, the company's forward price-to-earnings ratio of 33 is certainly expensive compared with its peers. It would seem investors are currently willing to pay quite the premium to get their hands on the top-tier dividend stock of them all.
Dover Corp.: 63-year streak
Dover (NYSE:DOV), on the other hand, is a much larger company from a market cap perspective than American States Water, and its success lies in the fact that it has its fingers in numerous industries, thus spreading around its growth potential and risk during economic contractions.
Dover has three primary segments: engineered systems, which includes automation components; fluids, which encompasses the safe handling of fluids in the industrial markets and oil and gas industries; and refrigeration & food, which, as the name suggests, covers refrigeration systems, covers, and displays. While not immune to recessions, there are products sold by Dover that border on basic-need goods for industrial or consumer markets.
In Dover's most recent quarter, it tallied 3% organic growth but generated 14% adjusted earnings growth. This speaks to the company's cost-cutting initiatives, its broad spectrum of products across a variety of industries and sectors, and its penchant to make earnings accretive acquisitions.
Northwest Natural Holding: 63-year streak
Perhaps the most surprising dividend stock on this list just might be Northwest Natural Holding (NYSE:NWN), which supplies natural gas to about 740,000 residents in Oregon and southwestern Washington. I say "surprising" because natural gas is a volatile commodity, and we wouldn't often think of it being conducive to a healthy (and growing) dividend for a small-cap company like Northwest Natural.
Similar to American States Water, the secret here is that Northwest Natural's gas operations are regulated. Even though that means waiting on the go-ahead from a state-level commission before passing along rate increases, it leads to very predictable cash flow. That makes it very easy to understand the company's cash flow from operations, and therefore divvy out a healthy annual yield of almost 3.1%.
As with most utilities, Northwest Natural will be relying on regulatory rate hikes and acquisitions to drive growth. The company also owns underground gas storage capacity, and it could look to expand this capacity to become something of a midstream energy player as well.
Genuine Parts Co.: 62-year streak
You might not think of automotive replacement parts as being a big deal, but for Genuine Parts Co. (NYSE:GPC) it's helped extend the company's dividend increase streak to a staggering 62 years, and counting.
Genuine Parts is probably best known for its automotive components, which can be found in more than 1,100 NAPA auto stores nationwide. But it's also responsible for providing industrial and electrical replacement parts, such as hoses, hydraulic, and pneumatic components, throughout North America. Though Genuine Parts is not immune from recessions like a regulated water or gas utility, its replacement parts have relatively steady demand in most economic environments.
Genuine Parts has demonstrated a penchant for growing on all fronts, with organic growth of 3% in its automotive segment in the third quarter. Recently, acquisitions have led the way, with the Alliance Automotive Group buyout in Europe pushing the company to double-digit year-on-year sales growth in 2018. With a payout ratio of only around 50% relative to 2019's projected earnings per share, further dividend increases appear likely.
Procter & Gamble: 62-year streak
Arguably the most well-known elite dividend stock on this list is consumer products giant Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG). Good ole P&G has increased its payout for 62 straight years, is currently yielding 3%, and is one of the market's largest companies, with a market cap of $233 billion.
The (not-so) secret to Procter & Gamble's long-term success has been its reliance on brand-name consumer products and its willingness to advertise those products. P&G sells dozens of well-known household and consumer items, including Tide detergent and Crest toothpaste. Regardless of how well or poorly the economy is doing, people still need to do laundry and brush their teeth. This basic-need aspect allows Procter & Gamble to pass along price hikes to consumers on an as-needed basis.
Procter & Gamble also has a tendency to be near the top of the list in terms of advertising dollars spent. It's no secret that brand-name products having pricing premiums compared with store-labeled products. P&G willingly puts up advertising dollars to help drive customer loyalty with its brands.
P&G's projected payout ratio of 65% in 2019 suggests that investors are already getting a healthy share of profits, but that the company's dividend increase streak is nowhere near finished.
Emerson Electric: 62-year streak
Emerson Electric (NYSE:EMR) is another company whose success has been contingent on having its hands in multiple cookie jars, so to speak. This technology and engineering company provides automation solutions and climate technologies, as well as tools and home products. From the industrial to consumer segments, you can find Emerson Electric making its mark.
As you can imagine, the company isn't impervious to economic downturns, or even downturns within the oil industry. As an example, weakness in crude pricing following crude's 2015 tumble adversely impacted its automation solutions segment. Thankfully, it's had little issue with organic and acquisition-based growth in other areas of its automation solutions division. In fact, organic sales in automation solutions rose by 9% in the company's most recent quarter.
Emerson Electric has also done a bang-up job of taking acquired businesses and integrating them into its existing business, creating cost synergies that work to further boost its margins. With a forecasted payout ratio of 54% in 2019 (based on Wall Street's consensus full-year earnings per share), more dividend increases are probably on the way.
3M: 60-year streak
Bringing up the caboose of this super-elite group of dividend stocks is Dow component 3M (NYSE:MMM). That's right -- two of the seven-longest dividend increase streaks are Dow components (P&G being the other).
The company is best known for making Post-Its, but it does so much more. 3M describes itself as a "diversified technology company." That's because it offers tapes and sealants, surgical supplies and infection prevention products, commercial cleaning and protection products, optical films, and sponges, to name a few of its more popular offerings. It serves a bevy of industries and sectors, which is a big source of its success.
The company's third-quarter report is especially telling, with 3M seeing its strongest growth coming from investments in the Asia Pacific region, as well as its electronics and energy division. Being global means hedging its bets in developed markets with higher-growth emerging markets.
Since 3M tends to pay out between 50% and 60% of its earnings as a dividend, it looks to have left plenty of room for future increases.