Investing in a dividend stock that doesn't increase its payouts over the years means that inflation will chip away at your dividend payments. That's why investing in stocks that have a strong track record for increasing their dividend payments are particularly attractive. Dividend Aristocrats are the best of the best and have increased their payouts for at least 25 consecutive years, making them some of the top dividend stocks to invest in.
Below are three Aristocrats that can be great options to build your portfolio around:
1. Cardinal Health
Cardinal Health (CAH -1.80%) is a healthcare services provider that has increased dividend payments for more than 30 years in a row. Currently, the company pays its shareholders a quarterly dividend of $0.4811, which totals $1.92 annually -- and that means investors today are earning a dividend yield of 3.5%.
Five years ago, the stock was paying out $0.3425 every quarter, and dividend payments have increased more than 40% since then. That averages out to a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 7%. However, the company's most recent dividend hike was a more modest 1%, raising payments from $0.4763 to $0.4811.
The company has generated $148 billion in sales over the past 12 months, and if not for a $5.67 billion litigation charge in its first-quarter results of 2020, Cardinal Health would have posted a strong profit during that time. However, the company also generated $1.4 billion in free cash flow, which is more than enough to cover the $573 million in dividends that it paid out over the last four quarters, meaning that its dividend payments continue to look safe.
McDonald's (MCD -4.38%) is one of the safest dividend stocks to hold. With a strong brand around the world and the restaurant chain still popular with consumers, it's a top stock to invest in, and its dividend only makes it that much better.
The fast-food giant has increased its dividend payments annually for more than 40 consecutive years. If you invest in the company today you'll receive quarterly payments of $1.25, totaling $5 for the year, for a dividend yield of 2.3%. It's below Cardinal Health's dividend yield, but it's still better than what investors can earn with an average S&P 500 stock, where the average yield is only 1.85%.
But McDonald's long-term investors are earning much more in dividends on their initial investment given how consistently the company has increased its payouts. Five years ago, McDonald's was paying its shareholders $0.85 in dividends. That means its dividend payments have increased by more than 47%, for a CAGR of 8%. That's in line with its most recent hike, where McDonald's increased quarterly dividend payments from $1.16 to $1.25, an increase of 7.8%.
It's a streak that doesn't look to be in any danger, as the company generated $5.2 billion in free cash flow over the past 12 months -- well above the $3.5 billion in dividend payments it paid out.
Colgate-Palmolive (CL -3.88%) is another household name that investors and consumers are likely very familiar with. Its vast array of products, ranging from personal care to food to healthcare and many other segments, makes it a well-diversified company to invest in. That diversification has helped the company consistently record profits of more than $2 billion in each of the past three years while sales have stayed above $15 billion as well.
The company has the longest dividend streak of the stocks listed here, having increased payments for an impressive 57 straight years. With dividend payments going back to 1895, it's safe to say that this is a dividend investors can count on for the foreseeable future.
The company's most recent dividend increase was from quarterly payments of $0.42 to $0.43, a hike of 2.4%. Today, its dividend yield also comes in at 2.4%, comparable to McDonald's and also above the S&P 500 average. But that's just for current investors; in five years, its payouts grew 19% from the $0.36 dividend that Colgate-Palmolive was paying its shareholders in 2015. That's a more modest CAGR of 3.6% than those of McDonald's and Cardinal Health, but it's a very sustainable rate of increase that the company can likely continue for many more years.
From a cash-flow perspective, Colgate-Palmolive is also looking very strong with free cash totaling $2.7 billion over the past four quarters, which is above the $1.6 billion it has paid out in dividends.
Solid dividend stocks to put in your portfolio today
The dividend yields offered by these stocks may not be as high as other payouts that investors can find on the markets today. However, buying and holding shares of these companies over the long term means benefiting from future increases and earning more on your original investment over time. These three dividend stocks can provide stability and recurring income, and can be great pillars to build your portfolio around.