After an ugly 2018, fears persist that a recession and a global economic slowdown are just around the corner. Whether the jitters are justified or not, no one knows. But if keeping it conservative sounds like the tune to play right now, dividend-paying stocks can help.
This month, three of our Foolish contributors picked Home Depot (HD -0.67%), Six Flags Entertainment (SIX -2.59%), and General Motors (GM 0.51%) as being worthy of your consideration. After a generous dividend hike from the home-improvement giant, and with the fat yields that the beaten-down theme park operator and forgotten automaker are paying, each of these stocks is worth a look.
The best paycheck is a growing paycheck
Nicholas Rossolillo (Home Depot): The U.S. housing market -- along with global economic growth expectations, U.S. consumer retail purchases, and the stock market -- took a hit at the close of 2018. The "sky is falling" mentality barely dented Home Depot, though. The world's largest home-improvement chain notched a 10.6% year-over-year increase in sales during the holiday shopping period.
Even better than the headline number was the bottom line. Earnings per share increased 37.5% during the fourth quarter and 33.5% for the full fiscal year ending Feb. 3, 2019. As Home Depot continues to invest in its online and physical store selling strategy, it expects its results to continue climbing higher. For the new year, management anticipates same-store sales (which measures the number of sales and customer ticket size per location) to grow 5%. Not too shabby for a retail chain as big as Home Depot.
But this is an article about dividends, not stock growth. Home Depot is using its expanding war chest to reward shareholders, too. During the fourth quarter, management announced a 32% increase to the quarterly dividend, good for a 2.9% annualized yield as of this writing. A new $15 billion share repurchase program was also announced, a cashless return to owners of the stock that helps boost the amount of profit per share owned.
Home Depot isn't the highest-dividend-paying company out there, but that's OK. The best paycheck is one that increases every year, and a growing bottom line that could support more share appreciation wouldn't be a bad thing either. Thus, I say Home Depot is worth a fresh look if you're into dividends.
A potentially profitable roller coaster ride
Chuck Saletta (Six Flags Entertainment): On many roller coasters, the first drop is the largest and most thrilling part of the ride. For investors, on the other hand, early and large drops are not a thrilling part of owning shares. Unfortunately, over the last six months or so, investors in Six Flags Entertainment have felt like they've been on that major first drop of one of the company's roller coasters. The stock has hit fresh 52-week lows on slowing expansion plans and the news that its CEO is retiring.
Still, there's reason to believe that the stock's fall has helped set up today's investors with a decent potential opportunity for future returns. For one thing, the company's $0.82-per-share quarterly dividend translates to a nearly 6.9% yield at recent prices. For another, Six Flags Entertainment's shares recently traded at around 15 times the company's anticipated earnings. That's a reasonable level for a business expected to increase those earnings by about 6% annualized over the next five years.
It's also important to remember that Six Flags Entertainment runs a very seasonal business -- with the summer months far more profitable than the rest of the year. As a result, investors considering buying now have the opportunity to buy before the strongest part of the year.
The market has priced the company's shares down as a result of the uncertainty from its slowing expansion plans and its CEO's pending retirement. While the market is concerned today, its memory tends to be short. A solid summer season and some clarity around its CEO succession plans could help erase that memory and enable Six Flags Entertainment's shares to recover after its recent roller-coaster-like decline.
Daniel Miller (General Motors): Wall Street has all but left General Motors' stock along the roadside, dead. Sure, the near term looks gloomy as GM's primary profit driver, North America's vehicle market, begins to slow after years of consistent growth. But there's a long-term story unfolding as Detroit's largest automaker transitions to a world with zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion.
Much of the strategy to reach those three zeros will revolve around autonomous driving. Earlier this month, GM Cruise, the automaker's self-driving subsidiary, announced it would double its employee count throughout the remainder of 2019. That will put GM Cruise's headcount close to 2,000 by year-end, with engineering positions driving the bulk of the hiring spree. The hiring spree might not seem like a big deal to investors, but it signals that GM Cruise is about to kick it into a higher gear, especially with the company's first driverless vehicle produced at scale to launch later this year.
Consider that IHS Markit estimates more than 33 million driverless vehicles will be sold globally by 2040 and will generate a mobility-as-a-service market worth more than $3 trillion by 2050, according to Intel. GM Cruise's potential, which some believe is already worth $43 billion, gives investors a reason to buy into the automaker even as its profit engine slows during this sales cycle.
The pessimism has pushed GM's price-to-earnings ratio down to 6.6 and pushed its dividend yield to a juicy 4.1%. Not only is General Motors already making better vehicles than it has in the past, GM Cruise is well positioned to be a big player in driverless vehicles as the world transitions to a reality with zero crashes, emissions, and congestion – and that makes GM a top dividend stock right now.