As the S&P 500 index has swooned more than 14% year to date as of this writing, it seems fewer and fewer sectors of the stock market may be able to withstand the disruption the COVID-19 epidemic is causing.
But even in conditions so characterized by uncertainty, dividend investors looking for income and solid growth potential can still buy into a few tickers that are holding up remarkably well. In this article, we'll look at two such names: self-storage real estate investment trust (REIT) CubeSmart (CUBE 1.39%), and consumer-goods multinational General Mills (GIS 0.29%).
Both of these companies operate in industries that enjoy some insulation from the effects of the coronavirus. Moreover, they've handily outperformed the broader market so far this year on a total-return basis:
1. CubeSmart: a stable real estate investment
Malvern, Pennsylvania-based CubeSmart is a self-storage REIT and one of the largest operators of residential and commercial storage spaces in the United States. The company increased its revenue by 7.7% to $644 million in 2019 and improved its funds from operations (FFO) by 6% to $326 million. CubeSmart boasts an investment-grade balance sheet, and it's quite careful about expansion: The company limits its store growth to the top 25 metropolitan statistical areas in the United States.
This expansion strategy helps ensure that CubeSmart locates new storage units in high-demand areas. In the REIT's most recent quarter, it averaged an occupancy rate of nearly 92%.
CubeSmart's portfolio of owned storage buildings consists of 36.6 million rentable square feet spanning 523 stores. The organization supplements revenue from its owned buildings with a third-party storage unit management arm. In 2019, CubeSmart grew its management platform by 44%, and it now manages 649 stores encompassing 43 million square feet.
CubeSmart's business may see limited impact from an economic slowdown, as it tends to focus on the highest-growth cities in the United States. And as a storage company, it may see a benefit from increased personal-storage needs during a downturn.
CubeSmart's dividend currently yields a generous 4%, and moreover, management has increased the company's quarterly payout by 135% over the past five years. Like many REITs, CubeSmart uses a substantial portion of its FFO to fund dividend payments. In 2019, dividends per share of $1.32 equaled roughly 78% of FFO per share of $1.69.
2. General Mills: room for growth
Cereal, snacks, and yogurt giant General Mills is an intriguing play in a difficult market, as it offers the income investor both safety and the potential for price appreciation. After a few stagnant years, General Mills stock produced a total return of 43% in 2019, powered by its higher growth potential following an $8 billion acquisition of premium pet food maker Blue Buffalo in April 2018, as well as management's focus on controlling overhead costs.
Despite the stellar share price performance last year, General Mills' forward P/E ratio of 15.9 is only just catching up to the S&P 500 index's average forward P/E of 16.6. Thus, with continued margin and sales acceleration, General Mills still has room for share price growth at a slight market premium. For example, competitors Kellogg, Campbell Soup, and Mondelez trade at forward P/E multiples of 18.2, 19.0, and 20.7, respectively.
General Mills provides safety against market turmoil as a defensive consumer-staples play. As a purveyor of packaged-food goods to the retail grocery and convenience channels, many of its products fall into the category of necessities and will eventually find their way to consumers, potential quarantines and supply chain disruptions notwithstanding.
The organization also provides an ample dividend for income-oriented investors. General Mills' quarterly payout yields 3.7% on an annualized basis, and it sports an acceptable payout ratio of 56%. This lucrative quarterly payout to investors, coupled with potential stock price growth, fortifies General Mills' status alongside CubeSmart as a safe dividend investment you can make right now, even in the face of a cratering market.